News / Middle East

Morsi's First Year Leaves Egypt Divided

FILE - Egypt's Islamist President-elect Mohamed Mursi looks at the crowd awaiting his speech in Cairo's Tahrir Square, June 29, 2012.
FILE - Egypt's Islamist President-elect Mohamed Mursi looks at the crowd awaiting his speech in Cairo's Tahrir Square, June 29, 2012.
Elizabeth Arrott
— It has been a difficult first year for Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, whose opponents call for it to be his last. 

Morsi took the stage in Cairo's Tahrir Square last June as a jubilant crowd celebrated the nation's first freely elected leader.  Now crowds on Tahrir, the heart of Egypt's revolution two years ago, are calling for him to step down.

Anti-government protesters burn a post of President Morsi in Tahrir Square, Cairo, June 26, 2013.Anti-government protesters burn a post of President Morsi in Tahrir Square, Cairo, June 26, 2013.
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Anti-government protesters burn a post of President Morsi in Tahrir Square, Cairo, June 26, 2013.
Anti-government protesters burn a post of President Morsi in Tahrir Square, Cairo, June 26, 2013.
Opponents charge he failed to create an inclusive government and presided over a catastrophic weakening of the state.

Morsi summed up his first year in power by admitting to some mistakes. 

But he devoted much of a speech this week reviewing his tenure to pointing out what a mess he inherited.

His supporters agree, pointing to the stagnation and corruption of nearly 30 years under deposed President Hosni Mubarak.  And they're keen to remind others of perhaps his biggest accomplishment.

"We already passed a very hard period," said Mohamed Soudan, the foreign secretary of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing from which Morsi hailed. "We already have a civilian country.  We don't have a military country anymore in Egypt and this is a very good point to Dr. Morsi. He made it in 40 days."

Morsi's sidelining of Egypt's powerful generals last year was hailed by many at the time. But one year later, some of those same people welcomed the military's recent announcement it could intervene if the situation spirals out of control.

Critic and publisher Hisham Kassem puts the blame for the turnabout squarely on Morsi.

"From day three, day four in his government, he has done nothing to improve the situation, only make it worse," he said. "He had a chance for things to pick up, for consensual politics. Instead, he went completely the other way.”

Kassem says Egyptians voted for him to address such issues as poverty and social injustice. Instead, he contends, they got a president trying to revive an Islamist state.

The political divide between Islamists and secular-minded Egyptians is not the biggest challenge facing Morsi, adds Kassem.

"It's an economic crisis that will push Morsi out of power. It's coming up and it has nothing to do with the peaceful demonstrations on the 30," he said. "He should look out for the bread shortage that is going to happen soon, or a shortage in power."

It's already bad, he says, and will only get worse.

Morsi's supporters counsel patience, pointing to new electricity projects underway and other capital investments. But more than anything, they stress he was legitimately elected and ask for the democratic process be given a chance.

Mohamed Soudan of the Freedom and Justice Party says whoever became the country's first post-revolution president faced enormous challenges.

“Mr. Morsi has had a very, very hard year," he said. "It is not easy for anyone.  I believe if he knew what is waiting for him, he [would] never, ever go to this election.”

A sentiment his opponents wish he might have acted on.

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