My humble reflections on the Egyptian situation

If you really want to learn on this issue, read these texts and not mine:
Maria’s Notes 1 and 2
  • The 22 November controversial Decree was a Presidential Decree and not a Constitutional Declaration, for there’s neither a real Egyptian constituency, nor a real Constitution in effect
  • The text was aimed at bypassing the Judiciary (only existing balance), in particular a Constitutional Court ruling due on 2 December that, according to many (and in view of the MB fears) would have nullified the Constituent Assembly and would have dissolved the Shura Council (the MB- dominated “advisory board”, only elected body (well, the participation rate was approx 7%) that remains after the same court dissolved the Parliament in June). Is this the right way to sideline the judiciary until it is swept from what they call “remnants of the old guard”?
  • The President granted himself sweeping powers, and his decisions can not be legally challenged. He is thus not subject to any kind of balance, he has clearly adopted an antidemocratic “winner takes all” position
  • Mr Morsi took advantage of the international recognition received after the Gaza conflict, which was not, however, a “carte blanche”
  • Some pundits have tried to justify the text citing the doctrine of “acts of sovereignty”, which is nonetheless only applicable when this acts are necessary to protect basic institutions, ie when there has been a coup, in the midst of a very unstable situation…, that was not the case on 21 November. It is maybe now.
  • The move was reminiscent of Mubarak’s tactics, whereby Egyptian were mere spectators of what was happening. Has the Egyptian population really become accustomed to this style of managing things?
  • Did Morsi think he could get away with the Decree? Did he actually miscalculate his political capital? Did not they forecast the backlash? Were all the moves planned beforehand, were them part of the “Rennaissance Plan”, or have they been seen as necessary after the Decree’s backlash, in order to justify Morsi’s decision and not conceding his being wrong?
  • Just in case, the MB had trained a huge team of English-speakers media-savvy PRs to justify the move throughout the country and the globe, mainly referring only to the first part, that nearly everybody agrees with
  • The President chose to announce the measures not on State TV but in the Presidential Palace, in front of thousands of MB supporters (previously warned to that effect). Weren’t you supposed to represent all Egyptians?
  • I read today that he promised in his inauguration support that he would not hold a referendum without national consensus. Is that true? Another unfulfilled promise?
  • As Tarek Masoud puts it, is Morsi merely following Egypt’s tradition of presidential authoritarianism? There are more similarities than we think between the MB and the Free Officers. According to Steve Cook, “in reality, the group has used religion to advance a political agenda”
  • And, by the way, having been “democratically elected” (although by a very thin margin and against a not very palatable choice such as Shafiq) and pushing for a Constitution doesn’t mean you are a democratic figure
  • An optimistic consequence: formation of a unified alliance between liberals, nationalists and revolutionaries, on one hand, and the “felool” on the other, under a single umbrella, the National Salvation Front, headed notably by Moussa, Sabbahi and Baradei (who have however been officially accused of treason), that has gathered the majority of the opposition, which has been incredibly galvanized.
  • People took to the streets and mass demonstrations were organized. The MB were wrong to dismiss the protesters as “just a few activists”. And dissent does not come from anti-Islamist feelings, but from genuine anger over Morsi’s overreaching.
  • Violent clashes broke out, MB militias attacking protesters were cerated and intervened after Morsi called for “defending the presidency”. Violence hurts both opponents and supporters of President Mohamed Morsi. Revolution-style scenes are witnessed again. Mysterious thugs appear. Walls are built (Egyptians have shown before they don’t like walls)
  • The Brothers are now completely isolated (Salafists seem to be their only allies and the only constituency the MB actually care for, as they consider them the only significant rivals they think they will have to face in future elections) and show distrust towards all political forces they constantly smear at.
  • Morsi is not really representing all Egyptians like he promised when being inaugurated and, as a result, a deep polarization between Islamists and non-Islamists (and not secularists vs. believers) has arisen. More worryingly, there’s no credible mediator in sight, the only institutions that should not directly intervene, ie the military and the judiciary, are part of the problem.
  • Morsi called for a national dialogue meeting attended by 54 opposition figures (who the hell were these people?), but the NSF leaders boycotted it and then continued to organize further protests. Shouldn’t they have accepted, a move that would have granted them much more legitimacy (moreover if we take into account they accepted meeting the Army)?
  • At least two close advisers of the President (notably the only non-Muslim member of his team, who coincidentally was also the Democratic transition advisor) were not previously informed about the decisions and consequently resigned, afterwards joining the opposition. I consider it a huge symbol of what has happened.
  • We have to realize and accept Islamists are an organic part of Egyptian political life, even though they have set themselves up as guardians of the democratic transition and that conception should be fought against. Although they claim that protests are “healthy for democracy” and that people should respect the “will of the country”, they are also adopting an incredibly paternalistic approach (a role they’ve been hanging to for years within certain communities), also somewhat claiming “they know best” (like Morsi did in the must-read TIME interview)
  • Contrary to Islamists, secularists have proven to be divided among themselves and poorly organized. Could some of them be taking advantage of the current events to gain popularity?
  • Morsi initially gave two additional months to the Constitutional Assembly to finally draft a text, in order to thrust the transition process, but he later decided to push even farther: the constitutional draft was approved in a 48 hours rush without objections or impediments by 86 Islamists members on 100 (those who withdrew include church representatives, liberal and left-leaning party figures and others).Abyss between Tahrir during the Revolution and the Constituent Assembly: what is actually left of the Revolution?
  • 15 December was the date scheduled for the referendum, and thus international observers were not able to monitor the whole process.
  • Calling for a Referendum was a very clever move, as Mr Morsi has sent the final decision directly to the people. In this sense, he has justified the decision by saying it is the only way to resolve deep disputes over Egypt’s future and bring the turmoil to a halt. The referendum would be tantamount to a plebiscite.
  • The opposition did not react swiftly, even though they finally decided to go ahead for voting no in the referendum instead of boycotting it. Doesn’t that, up to a certain extent, legitimize the Chart and the process?
  • According to Al Arabiya, Egypt Judges Club Chairman Counselor Ahmad al-Zind said that more than 90% of judges rejected to oversee constitutional referendum. Even it the Referendum is held in two round, what guarantees does that figure grant?
  • The constitutional declaration was withdrawn, even though “all its consequences remain in effect” and “all constitutional declarations, including the current one, are immune from any challenge in any court and all related lawsuits are considered void”. It was clearly a cosmetic concession (as the Ikwhan had said in their hyper-active Twitter account “no turning back, the Decree is staying”), not a real retreat, that has not lead to infighting abating.
  • Sarah Carr has compared Morsi to a “dull cheating husband attempting to make amends by offering surprise dinner invitations after beating his wife up”.
  • “If the people vote against the draft constitution in the referendum on Saturday, 15 December 2012, the president is to call for the direct election of a new Constituent Assembly of 100 members within three months. The new Assembly is to finish its task within six months from its election date. The president is to then call for a referendum on the new draft presented by the Assembly within thirty days of receiving it” –> back to the vicous circle! Complicated choice: what if the Constitution does not pass? people will face an “out of the frying pan into the fire” choice. People will vote yes mainly for two reasons: either they trust Morsi’s judgement, either they are tired of the current situation and wan stability and their country to go on.
  • In view of the last two elections, the efficiency of the MB machine has been proven: “with the Constitution, the wheel of production will turn” is the slogan of the pro-referendum campaign. Moreover, Al Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed Tayyeb helped the Islamic Alliance already powerful electoral machine by declaring that participating in the referendum is a religious duty –> toxic combination of religion and politics
  • Would a final yes in the referendum mean a renewal of the legitimacy of the president? It seems not, as both the legitimacy of the text and of the process have been already tainted
  • I really have a problem with the quorum for the referendum: a qualified majority (50+1), is the percentage normally used for the general legislation, not for approving a Constitution, especially if the body in charge of drafting the Constitution has not been selected through direct elections.
  • Most importantly, how many Egyptians will go cast their vote having actually read the 200-article text?
  • The MB are aware of people’s discontent (mainly stemming from the immobility that has characterised the country since the Revolution), and were afraid of what could have happened in the next Parliamentary elections. The only way of moving them forward was installing a new electoral system, by virtue of what the new Constitution states.
  • If the Constitution is passed, legislative power would be restored to the Shura Council until next Summer. What kind of Laws will this body adopt? Even though the new text will limit Morsi’s power, they would still leave Egypt in the hands of a Muslim Brotherhood president and a parliament in which Islamists are likely to control the majority of seats.
  • As long as Islamists keep winning parliamentary and presidential elections, there will likely be no push to rein in the presidency. But if the two authorities fall into competing hands, the new constitution could produce gridlock rather than real oversight.
  • I believe the roots of the issue lie in past errors: the March 2011 text designing a system whereby the (Islamist dominated) Parliament would appoint the members of the assembly, and the 12 August Decree (which, unlike this one, had broad support), for some the real starting point of renewed authoritarianism and an MB self-congratulatory speech, as Morsi gave himself full powers (alongside dismissing the heads of the Army and placing MB sympathisers in influential positions within some media)
  • Morsi issued the new law No. 107/2012, granting law enforcement powers to the armed forces until the referendum results are announced, ie, tasking the military with supporting the Police in order to protect “key institutions” (I keep wondering what that expression actually means) Article 198 of the final constitutional draft now provides that “Civilians may not be tried before the military justice system except for crimes that harm the armed forces, and this shall be defined by law”. This move leaves intact the military’s discretion to try civilians under the Code of Military Justice –> the Law, even if it enshrines only a temporary (until the day after the Referendum) measure, not a blanket authorization, immediately brought back difficult memories. It shows the President’s need for a build-up of security (the Police has been quite weak until now), as well as its increasing nervousness.
  • The Army is playing an ambiguous role of “studied impartiality”, promising not to interfere but calling for a national dialogue. Their sacred autonomy has still not been scrapped (it won’t with the new Chart, as it doesn’t restrain their powers). The Army won’t act as a proxy, as it sees itself above state powers, but at the same time owes the most important appointment to Morsi itself.
  • I believe what the future holds for Egypt will surely depend on four issues: what will happen in future elections, once the opposition gets its act together and turns into a serious contender to the MB and the Salafists; how Constitutional clauses will be developed and interpreted; how “neutral” institutions (mainly the Army and the Judiciary) will behave, and what margin of maneuver will they have: and how the economic situation will evolve.
  

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