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Michael Jansen: Troubled transition
December 07, 2012
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Egyptian liberals and revolutionaries are expected to return to the streets of Cairo and other cities and towns today to protest President Muhammad Morsi’s power grab and effort to impose a controversial constitution on the country. On Tuesday tens of thousands of Egyptians thronged to the presidential palace, Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square and the main squares of Alexandria and other cities to denounce his policies.

They revived the chants of the 2011 uprising, “The people want the end of the regime,” and “Leave, leave,” that toppled 30-year President Hosni Mubarak. They drew graffiti on palace walls depicting Morsi as pharaoh and claimed he took his orders from Muhammad Badie, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood which proposed Morsi for the presidency.

The protesters represent a newly united opposition determined to prevent Morsi and the Brotherhood from assuming total power and transforming Egypt from a “civil” to a socially conservative, fundamentalist state. Anti-and pro-Morsi protests over the past week have deepened the rift between secular revolutionaries and fundamentalists and disrupted the transition from Mubarak’s authoritarian rule to a democratic system representing all the country’s people and political currents.

Over the past 19 months, Egypt’s idealistic but divided and disputatious revolutionaries have had to contend with the hijacking of their uprising/revolution, first by the military and then by the Muslim Brotherhood.  

During the uprising, the military attempted to stay on the sidelines and assert its purity of arms and motives by refusing to take Mubarak’s side against people’s power. 

The Brotherhood initially ordered its members to stay away from the demonstrations mounted by the “uprisers,” to use a term coined by an Egyptian friend, and after several days of turmoil graciously permitted adherents to participate without giving the protests official blessing. 

Once Mubarak had fallen, the Brotherhood collaborated with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, SCAF, which had assumed presidential powers.  Backed by the Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest and most organised political movement, the SCAF dissolved the legislature (from which the Brotherhood had been excluded), elected in the corrupt December 2010 parliamentary poll. The SCAF set up a committee headed by a pro-Brotherhood figure to amend the constitution and called for a referendum in March 2011 to approve the amendments. In spite of protests by revolutionaries against the rush to carry out limited reforms, 77 per cent of the 41 per cent of voters who cast ballots approved the amended document.

In staged elections held between November 2011 and January 2012, the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the ultra-conservative Salafi Noor Party won a majority of seats in both houses of parliament.

Emerging secular and leftist parties rejected the early vote on the ground that they did not have time to organise and build support.            Fundamentalist deputies in the lower house, the people’s assembly, appointed three-quarters of the members of the 100-member commission tasked with drafting the constitution. 

The SCAF went along with the Brotherhood’s scenario until the run-up to the presidential election held on May 23 and 24, 2012. Fearing another Brotherhood victory, the generals backed the presidential candidacy of Ahmad Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister, dissolved the people’s assembly, and threatened to do the same with the upper house, the Shura Council, and the constitutional commission. The SCAF assumed legislative powers as well as key authorities of the president.

Brotherhood candidate Muhammad Morsi won the presidential election and assumed office but faced stiff opposition from the SCAF, which was determined to retain the powers it had seized and keep him in check. However, in August, Morsi followed the generals’ example of deciding policy by issuing a series of decrees of his own. In a shock move, he mounted a coup against the military: he retired the SCAF head, Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi, and other senior officers and replaced them with younger officers prepared to co-operate with the Brotherhood.

With these decrees he brought an end to the 60-year reign by the Egyptian military but did not put an end to authoritarian rule. Instead, he took a leaf from the book of the military and began to impose his and the Brotherhood’s will on Egypt.

 Frustrated over obstructions placed in his path by the judiciary, on Nov.22, Morsi issued a new decree depriving the supreme court of its power to dissolve the Shura Council and the constitutional commission from which liberals, women and Christians had withdrawn in protest against fundamentalist-inspired articles imposed by the majority. To make matters worse, the decree gave the president immunity from judicial review and consecrated Morsi’s power grab begun when he single-handedly ousted the military.

The commission then hastened to complete the drafting of the new constitution and handed the text to Morsi. He declared that the referendum deciding the document’s fate would be held on Dec.15.

Analyst Michael Wahid Hanna wrote in Foreign Policy that Morsi’s approach is dictated by the Brotherhood’s “contempt” for rival political forces. Hanna said that he has a “majoritarian mindset” based on a “‘winner-take-all’” perspective which “entitles the victors [in electoral contests] to govern unchecked by the concerns of the losers.” 

In Hanna’s view, “This polarising approach bodes ill for the future of Egypt’s troubled transition at a foundational moment when the country is fashioning a new constitutional order.” This approach has “cemented the divide” between fundamentalists and secularists and “heightened suspicions of the Brotherhood’s ultimate intentions.”

The Cairo publisher and editor Hisham Kassem observed that ever since its founding in 1928, the Brotherhood has suffered from this mindset and from “over-reach.” Unfortunately, at this time, Brotherhood “over-reach” could very well defeat the “revolution” which was supposed to set Egypt on the road to democracy following the glorious uprising that toppled Mubarak and ushered in what could become a failed and tragic Arab Spring.
____________________________________________
The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict
 

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