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!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Troubles with the Egyptian Constituent Assembly

Friday of Islamic Sharia in Tahrir Square. Photo Credit Al Masry Al Youm.

The Constituent Assembly is the somewhat difficult name for the group of Egyptians tasked with writing the Constitution for this emergent democracy.

On Sunday, several leftist and liberal members withdrew from the Constituent Assembly. Further, Coptic Orthodox Pope Bishop Pachomius announced the withdrawal of three Christian members from the CA on Saturday. I am of two minds about this. First, I can see that maybe some of them feel they are participating in a fundamentally flawed process. Principles aside, they risk handing the task over to conservative Islamists, which will result in a document not widely accepted by the entire Egyptian population, particularly the educated population.

Salafis in the CA wanted to replace the idea of "Sharia principles" with the idea of "Sharia provisions," which would leave less open to interpretation in the Constitution, and might usher in a Sunni theocracy of sorts.

Christians and liberals are protesting what they see as an "Islamic" Constitution.  They are also concerned about the far reaching powers granted to the Executive by the Constitutional draft. Further, there is concern that the way the draft is currently written, it would preclude a civil state. The Church has said that the withdrawal of the Christian members of the CA is final.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Constitutional Conundrum and Egypt's stance on Gaza attacks

The process of drafting the Egyptian constitution is turning out to be difficult, to say the least. Court cases, threats, and a debate over human rights are common occurrences. Further, a polarizing debate about the role of religion in the new Egyptian state continues to make headlines. One important debate is Islamist representation in the Assembly. Further, observers feel that the conservative language of certain articles may violate the human rights of religious minorities, women and even children. Liberal and secular groups are protesting the recent draft.

Human Rights Watch argues that the draft of the constitution provides basic political and economic rights, yet it falls short on women's and children's rights, freedom of religion, as well as torture. HRW believes that several provisions of the September 27th draft are at odds with international human rights standards. HRW tells Egypt to fix draft constitution (October 8, 2012)

Nathan Brown, a law professor at George Washington University, notes that the Egyptian constitution is not a secular document, rather it puts Islam at the front and center. Most of the 100 members of the Constitutional Assembly are Islamists, however, but Brown argues that they are trying to defer some major issues to get national buy in. Sharia law governing marriage, divorce and inheritance--which gives men and women very different rights-- will continue, although it has some language supporting the status of women at the beginning. In the long run, he notes, those provisions may come into conflict.  Brown states that "[l]iberals, secularists, Islamists, leftists, people from all across the political spectrum are having to hammer out an agreement, and they're not used to having to do that," yet he is hopeful that they will make it work. Looking to Rebuild, Egypt Leans on New Constitution (October 21, 2012)

Meanwhile, President Morsy has threatened to form a new Constituent Assembly if this one does not complete its work within six months. He also accused members of the former Mubarak government of sowing dissent in the country. Morsy puts pressure on Constituent Assembly (October 28, 2012)

The New York Times suggests that the new Constitution will insert religion more deeply into Egypt's judicial and legislative processes. Yet, the document firmly seats power in the hands of Egypt's elected officials and civil courts, so their is little likelihood that the country will become a theocracy as is the case with Iran. Liberal delegates believe that the guidelines are vague enough to give the nation flexibility with regard to interpretation in crafting the future Egyptian state. Egypt is the first Arab state to attempt to meld Sharia with principles of democracy. Tunisia is using a more liberal constitutional approach.A Vague Role for Religion in Egyptian Constitution (November 9, 2012)

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that Morsy remains firm in his support for Hamas, as he attempts to negotiate the delicate space between supporting the Palestinians, and honoring his treaty obligations with Israel. Thousands of Egyptians rallied in squares and mosques to condemn Israel's air strikes on the Gaza Strip, and to urge the Egyptian state to support the Palestinians. The post reports that Morsy has taken the lead among Arab leaders in confronting Israel. Egyptians Rally in Support of Palestinians in the Gaza Conflict (November 16, 2012)