After several weeks of intense and occasionally violent protests, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on Saturday finally rescinded a decree that had given him extrajudicial powers. Protesters had filled Tahrir Square in response to the decree, with some carrying banners equating Morsi with his dictatorial predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. But by caving in to the protesters, Morsi showed that his main failing is incompetence rather than authoritarianism.
In fact, this is the second time in two months that Morsi has felt compelled to reverse a major policy announcement in the face of public opposition. In early October, the president announced a plan to have shops and restaurants close by 10 p.m. as a way to conserve energy by reducing nighttime electricity consumption. Even before it was implemented, the plan drew considerable opposition from businesses and consumers, prompting the government to scrap it.
In both cases, the nature and magnitude of the negative reaction the initiatives generated seemed to take the president and his political advisers by surprise. Their failure to anticipate the opposition to these policies is a reflection of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership’s lack of experience and sophistication in governance and politics. In the case of the energy-conservation plan, they should have anticipated strong opposition given the prevalence of business activities during late-night hours in major Egyptian cities. If, on the other hand, Morsi’s team was aware of the potential for pushback, it failed to conduct an adequate political and media campaign to prepare public opinion for the introduction of the new policy. The urgency of reducing the massive cost of energy subsidies is well-understood in Egypt; with a better public relations campaign, Morsi might have been able to generate enough public support to implement the policy with modifications.