How did Egypt’s first democratically elected president go from a famed beneficiary of a popular uprising to being ousted in a popularly celebrated military coup just one year later?
On June 30, 2012, Mohammed Morsi seemingly won a legitimate democratic election, winning 52 percent of the vote. But even then it was hard to find Egyptians who supported him and his vision. A poor public speaker with no clear plan for Egypt, he was initially referred to as the “spare tire,” the second-choice candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, the secret and best-organized group here.
Morsi had been a member of the group for three decades, but he became the Brotherhood’s presidential candidate only after the group’s first choice was disqualified.
His support at the polls came from those who’d been urged to support him by Brotherhood, which distributed goods like meat, to voters in an effort to get them to the polls. There were those who voted for him because they saw him as the lesser of a bad choice between him and his rival, Ahmed Shafik, a military official seen as an extension of deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Of the 50 million eligible voters, only 24 percent voted for Morsi. And in the first round of the election, the three liberal opposition candidates – Hamdeen Sabahi, Amr Moussa and Shafik – collectively garnered 54 percent of the vote compared to Morsi’s 24 percent.
Despite that, in the early days of his presidency Morsi enjoyed an approval rating as high as 74 percent. But he disregarded the narrow margin through which he’d won the presidency and in a series of blunders, coupled with divisive language, became seen as grabbing for power, pushing through a constitution crafted largely by the Brotherhood, moving sympathetic judges into key positions, and prosecuting critics under Mubarak-era laws. That and a flailing economy, led to his downfall.
Morsi’s fall was in no small way related to the Egypt he inherited, not just its economic travails, but the fact that he led a populace that had been emboldened by the power of the street movement that led to Mubarak’s resignation in February 2011.
Egyptians believed they had to be included in Egypt’s nascent political process. Morsi disagreed. He had met the one moment of public accountability that mattered, he felt, he’d won the election. Those who opposed him could speak up again in four years, at the next presidential election.
Almost immediately he made enemies within the key institutions he needed in order to maintain control of government. He defied a court ruling that the parliamentary elections had been illegal, and ordered the Brotherhood-dominated legislature back to work.
When the Supreme Constitutional Court pointed out that its rulings “are final and not subject to appeal,” Morsi gave himself legislative powers until a new election could be held. That election was originally set for April, but the court ruled in the spring that the mechanisms for holding election were illegal, delaying the election till fall. The voting was never scheduled, and it’s unclear when it will happen now.
Just over a month into office, 16 Egyptians troops were killed in an attack along the Israeli border. Morsi quickly replaced the heads of the military, Gens. Mohammed Tantawi and Sami Anan. But he never found those responsible for the attack, drawing the ire of Egypt’s most revered and last remaining nationalist institution.
Around this time, Egypt was plagued by electricity shortages through the scorching summer. Security began to deteriorate. Burglaries, pick pocketing and sexual assaults happened with impunity.
Morsi appointed a cabinet largely of his backers, many who were not well prepared to tackled the country’s economic and political problems. A fractured, divisive opposition increasingly spoke out against him, but Morsi refused to make any concessions.
Morsi did have some successes. The Obama administration celebrated his handling of clashes in Gaza and credited him with orchestrating a cease-fire between Israel and the forces of the Palestinian group Hamas.
But on Nov. 22, just one day after the Gaza crisis ended, Morsi issued a controversial seven-point decree in which he gave himself judicial powers, making him the head of all civilian branches of government. He created a committee of his backers to write a constitution and hastily pushed it through the following month. Around this time, Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, Morsi’s minister of defense and the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, said he began pleading for the Morsi government to reach out to opponents.
According to el-Sissi’s national address Wednesday, Morsi refused.
Street protests erupted. Violence broke out in front of the presidential palace, killing at least 10. Morsi was initially silent, only to give an angry address to the nation.
"I cannot compromise because my enemies have not yet been vanquished," he said.
After Morsi spoke, protesters set several Muslim Brotherhood headquarters on fire.
For Morsi opponents, the speech was a sign that Morsi was unwilling to entertain their complaints that he had become a dictator just five months after the nation’s first democratic election.
Days later, the new constitution passed. The document set out that an elected president could be removed by a vote of two-thirds of both chambers of Parliament. But with no Parliament, Morsi was in control of the legislature, leaving no means to remove him.
More deaths, and a silent Morsi, came again in January in the northern city of Port Said where a verdict in a murder case stemming from a riot at a soccer game that killed 74 set off a round of violence that lasted days. At least 54 people were killed. Morsi never addressed the deaths.
Five more Egyptians were killed in clashes between Christians and Muslims in Cairo. On the second anniversary of the January 2011 uprising that led to Mubarak’s fall, thousands protested against Morsi.
Meanwhile, the already fragile economy continued to fall, as did basic services. Morsi tried to make cabinet changes and secure a $4.8 billion loan from the IMF but failed. Unemployment reached 14 percent and everyday Egyptians found it harder to pay for food as inflation plagued the Egyptian pound.
By March, there was already serious talk of removing the president. A new opposition group called Tamarod began collecting signatures on a petition. There was growing sentiment that Egypt could not survive three more years under Morsi.
The only force that could intervene was the military. There were plans underway for national protests on June 30, the first anniversary of Morsi’s inauguration.
On June 23, el-Sissi warned that the military would intervene if Morsi and the opposition failed to reach an agreement. The military would not allow Egypt to “go down a dark tunnel of conflict.”
A week later, when an estimated 14 million, one of every six Egyptians, took to the streets, the military gave Morsi and his opponents 48 hours to create a “road map” to end the political polarization.
According to el-Sissi, Morsi again refused. In his last speech as president, Morsi defiantly shouted, “I am the president.”
On Wednesday, the military moved.
The streets erupted in celebration. Thirty one months after they had rejected an Egypt largely governed by the military, Egyptians were relieved to see their democratically elected leader removed by the army.