Egypt’s Constitutional Crisis


Below is the summary of my understanding of the constitutional crisis unfolding in Egypt. I am indebted to Juan Cole at Informed Comment and Angry Marmot at DKos for their analysis, and the Egyptian blogger Big Pharoah for his on-the-scene observations.

1. What is the Crisis all about?

On Thursday, November 22nd, Egyptian President Morsi set out a series of 7 decrees which effectively gave him more unprecedented political power. Although the aim of his power was to assert greater control over political holdovers from the Mubarak regime, the heavy-handed way that Morsi went about his grab for power has sparked a series of protests in Egypt, even from groups who opposed the Mubarak regime.

2. What were in the7 decrees and what were their singificance?

Decree

Significance

1. Officials in Mubarak regime who resorted to violence against protestors will be investigated and retried. This is a demand from Egyptian masses, so Morsi appears to be pacifying opposition from the Left.
2. Suits brought in the Courts against Morsi’s executive orders are hereby dismissed. Morsi is trying to prevent the Courts from dissolving the parliament like it did to the one elected in Fall 2011.
3. Public prosecutor will be appointed by the judiciary for 4 years. Preventing public prosecutor from aligning with members of former Mubarak regime.
4. Constituent Assembly has 2 more months to finish drafting constitution. Deadline moves from the end of December 2012 to end of February 2013.
5. No Court may dissolve the Constituent Assembly or the upper house of Parliament. Leftists are concerned that Morsi plans to reinstate the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament.
6. President may take any steps to preserve national security. Secularists and leftists are concerned at how broad and vague these unspecified powers are. Similar decrees have been used by dictators in the past to consolidate power.
7. This decree will be published in Official Gazette. Makes it official.

3. What are the deeper currents behind the decree?

The mainstream media cast this in terms of Islamists vs. Secularists. However, both Angry Marmot and Juan Cole seem to be saying that the Morsi regime, while trying to go after those hard-core elements of the Mubarak regime both in the military (SCAF) and the judiciary, are also trying to see if there are more “junior” members of the regime that would be willing to share power with the Muslim Brotherhood.

However, by tactic of Decree 2, which has the executive totally override the judiciary, he has alienated most of the judiciary, and Decree 6 has alienated most of the Secularists/Leftists, whom he was trying to appease with Decree 1.

4. What prompted Morsi to make such a sweeping change?
This is where the interesting speculation comes in, particularly from Big Pharoah, an Egyptian blogger who says that he was feeling empowered by the support and gratitude he got from both the Obama administration and Israel for his role in brokering the Gaza ceasefire. The low-key reaction from the Obama administration seems to give tacit approval to Morsi as the legitimate alternative to the Mubarak regime.

However, Big Pharoah hints at the problem with such heavy-handed tactics, that to those inside Egypt, he will increasingly be seen not as the alternative to the Mubarak regime, but as its successor in every sense of the term, both positive and negative. And regarding that possibility, I bring you the ending to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, as the animals looked in on the negotiations between the pigs (the current regime) and the humans (the former regime).   (The pig reference is not meant as an insult, but rather that the difference between the current regime and the former regime in Egypt may be seen to be eroding in the eyes of the Egyptian public in a parallel manner to the passage quoted below from Animal Farm.)

“No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

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