Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Morsi Maneuver Part 2: Tahrir revolts against massive power grab

Marchers arrive in Tahrir to protest the Constitution

Dear readers, 

I have been watching the unfolding events in the past days with some trepidation, but not that much surprise. 

Morsi  has issued a sweeping decree on November 22, 2012 expanding his powers.  Opponents are furious, arguing that his declaration has made all his decisions immune to judicial review and banned the courts from dissolving the upper house of parliament and an assembly writing the new constitution, both of which are dominated by Islamists. The decree also gave Morsi sweeping authority to stop any ‘‘threats’’ to the revolution, public order or state institutions. The powers would last until the constitution is approved and parliamentary elections are held, not likely before spring 2013.  Egyptians Protest Morsi (Boston Globe)

His supporters argue that he is protecting the Revolution  Morsi has split Egypt down the middle (BBC)   According to the BBC, his supporters state that he merely took unchecked power away from the judiciary - which is still full of personalities from the Mubarak era - until the constitution is done and there are systems in place to allow the country to move forward.

Of course, when Morsi was elected, many people feared that exactly such a power grab would happen. Morsi is a complicated character. On the one hand, he was educated in America, and even taught at Cal State Northridge and is quite learned. On the other hand, he was a member of the Guidance Office of the Muslim Brotherhood before that organization became legal after the Revolution.  Times Interview with Mohamed Morsi. Unfortunately, his rhetoric, that he wants a civil, constitutional state, is not in line with his current actions.

The crazy thing is that it is not even Friday, and all hell has broken out in Tahrir. The most astute analysis I have heard comes from my old boss at AUC Dr. J--- B----. She says that 

"At this point, almost any scenario could be built. Morsi may realize he has to prove himself and show the courage to confront his own side and rebalance the constituent assembly, in which case he could pull if off if he demands unanimity or a super-majority on every provision, to force them to reach consensus or take it out. 
Conversely, the MB could militarize and we could have green shirts jack-stepping around Tahrir. 

Or we could have massive unrest and economic collapse.

Or the military could come back if things get dicey. 

He has really painted himself into a corner. We'll have to wait and see if he knows something we don't -- about the Gaza situation or the IMF, or whatever -- but he risks having all hell break loose if there are any more unpleasant surprises.  Word is MB HQs in 7 governorates all over the country were burnt.  One of the students also told me that the police and the army were shooting at each other at the head of Road 90 last week."

My analysis is that if Morsi knows something we do not, he needs to convey it to the left, to regain their trust. He has shown strength and statesmanlike behavior toward the conflict in Gaza,  Talks begin in Cairo after Gaza Cease Fire (NYT) and in relations with Iran, but his inability to manage the domestic front in his own country could neutralize Egypt's effectiveness as a foreign affairs powerhouse.   

Most worrisome is Morsi's attempt to maintain the work of the Constituent Assembly. As I have noted in previous posts, from day one, the Constituent Assembly has been heavily Islamist. With only 7 women on the Assembly to begin with, the Assembly clearly did not represent the interests of a majority of Egyptians. I noted my discomfort with the opposition parties and the Christian parties pulling out. Strategically, they should have stayed in and fought for a better CA. Nonetheless, if Morsi has his way, the current CA, which is even more Islamist now than when it was initially convened, will be in charge of a new constitution that certainly does not reflect the secular, mult-religious, modern nation of the Egypt we know and love. 

This blog is called Democratizing the New Egypt.  Morsi's behavior is not democratic, and is made even worse by the fact that there is no parliament currently sitting. It is true that the judiciary needs reform, and feloul in the judiciary need to be routed, but concentrating all of the nation's power in the executive is not the correct tactic. 

There is a silver lining to all of this: my beloved secular opposition is getting its second wind. As reported by the Egypt Independent, 

For almost two years, civil and secular groups were constantly blamed for being disunited and unorganized, paving the way for Islamists to rise to power after Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.

That changed this week as opposition leaders, former presidential candidates, secular liberal and leftist parties, and even some figures previously labeled as feloul — or remnants of the former regime — united against President Mohamed Morsy’s constitutional declaration, through which he claimed sweeping powers for himself, and formed the National Salvation Front.  Civil Groups Pounce Into Public Space (EI)
As one protester quoted by the BBC (article above) pointed out, “It's unfortunate that my demands are still same - bread, freedom and social justice. If Morsi doesn't get it, well, we have seen this movie before and all know where this is going to end.”

Credits: Huge thanks to my awesome graduate assistant Jillian Underwood for assisting with research and keeping me organized!

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