For sixteen months, Egypt's military council has tried to convince us we are indebted to them for the revolution. In reality it was the military council that was indebted to us for its newfound absolute powers. Today, there's enough debt to go around. The Salafis owe the revolution their newfound political role. The country's liberal forces owe SCAF and the judiciary for the disqualification of Hazem Abu Ismail from the presidential roster. The military is indebted to the Muslim Brotherhood for their silent obedience throughout a year of violence against protesters and revolutionaries -- all of this debt while the country is running in the red. Virtually no single political institution, party, organization, group, or movement possesses a reservoir of absolute legitimacy in the current maelstrom.
Yet the one person whose debts are most colossal is president-elect Mohamed Morsi. Many a commentator and Morsi himself have admitted that even if he were to possess the executive power (recently stripped of him by SCAF's constitutional declaration supplement), the task of balancing the economy, uniting the Egyptian public, managing Egypt's increasingly entangled foreign policy, and most importantly enacting directives that fulfill the revolution's goals of subsidies, dignity, freedom and social justice appears at least insurmountable. But even all of these challenges do not obfuscate his greatest burden. Like Atlas from the Greek myth who was condemned to carry the celestial universe (depicted in art as the Earth) on his shoulders, Morsi bring to the amputated presidential seat un-payable debts.
Perhaps his greatest debt is to the Muslim Brotherhood, which nurtured him for much of his political and professional career and in revelatory form pulled him out of near-obscurity to lead their charge to the presidential palace. He owes Khairat El-Shater, the Brotherhood behemoth for relinquishing the spotlight to him and entrusting him with this task. He cannot forget the organization's investment of tens of millions (if not more) of pounds and dedicating tens of thousands of its loyalists to energize his campaign at a time when many of his competitors like Sabbahi, Abul-Fotouh, Aly, El-Bastawisi, etc., had to struggle to solicit contributions left and right. He owes the Brotherhood's Supreme Guide Badie for his use of his authority and dominion to bestow a complete vetting of him and allowing him to be the face of a long-waited Brotherhood presidency. And to the organization itself that not only nurtured him personally, it facilitated his unlikely meteoric rise in politics by harvesting him from its ranks. All of this should lead us to perceive Morsi's removal from the Brotherhood and FJP membership as a rather unconvincing and gimmicky performance.
Another major debt is owned to none other than the ruling SCAF who Morsi played a game of rhetorical brinksmanship with over the past few weeks as both flexed their muscles ahead of a seemingly conciliatory conclusion. Arguably, SCAF could have disqualified Morsi from eligibility for any number of reasons, actual or contrived, as they did with other candidates ahead of the election. Additionally, lest we be fooling ourselves, the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC) which in addition to being absolute in its ruling was also appointed by the military council. There are at least five scenarios the PEC could have orchestrated to significantly disadvantaged Morsi, including the disqualification of Shafik which would have fielded an arguably more competitive contender or disbarring Morsi on the grounds of illegal campaigning by the Brotherhood and the FJP. But none of these things happened. Furthermore, SCAF also appeared to choose foregoing a confrontation with the Brotherhood at a time when the military seemed to have growing electoral power behind Shafik's 48 percent vote. So in the end, Morsi is president not simply because of the electoral win, but with a nod from SCAF, a debt he will have to repay and has begun to do so publicly by making public overtures to the council's "wise management" of the post-Mubarak transition.
And if that wasn't enough, perhaps Morsi's greatest debt is to the electorate outside of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose support catapulted him past his contender. To Egypt's revolutionary groups and individuals, from the April 6 Youth and the Ultras groups, from Wael Ghonim to the once-demonized Revolutionary Socialists, Morsi's diametrically opposed camp is extremely wide and polarized pushing him beyond his Brotherhood base. Many of these groups "squeezed a lemon over themselves" (an Egyptian adage meaning bit their tongues and acting against their natural will) and voted for Morsi to defeat the old regime. They did so despite the unflattering and often counterrevolutionary record of the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the transition where they abandoned the protesters during their bloody confrontations with security forces between March 2011 and February 2012. With Morsi having won seven million new votes in the second round compared to the first, arguably a large number of them are those who preferred other candidates over him. They represent more than half of his voters and to them he owes his presidency. This non-Muslim Brotherhood electorate which entrusted Morsi with its vote expect to be vindicated in their support.
At a time when the SCAF has hardened its once flaccid coup just in time to emasculate the incoming president, the unaffiliated revolutionary masses, not just the Muslim Brotherhood, hope Morsi can stand tall and repay their debt.
This article was originally published in Egypt Independent as "Morsy's Debts."