Constitutional Crisis in #Egypt continues


Below is summary of my understanding of the continuing constitutional crisis unfolding in Egypt. I am indebted to Juan Cole’s at Informed Comment, Esam Al-Amin’s article in Counterpunch, and the Egyptian blogger Big Pharoah for his on-the-scene observations.

1. Recap–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.

Here are the 7 decrees listed; the decrees in red are the ones that are causing the most backlash among various groups.

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.

2. What are the groups that are lining up for and against Morsi’s regime?

This is a three-way power struggle, with Morsi trying to control on the right the military council or SCAF as well as those elements of the judiciary that are remnants of the Mubarrak regime, and on the left the various secular and leftists movements as well as the Coptic Christians who are nervous about the hard-wiring of Shariah law into the proposed constitution. Morsi’s decrees 1 and 3 above were aimed at placating the revolutionary movements that had helped overthrow the old regime. However, decrees 2, 4, and 6 ended up creating a backlash from the other direction.

What it seems to come down to is the following: Is Morsi’s regime going to simply replace the Mubarrak regime and replicate its corruption, but with the added feature of Egypt becoming a theocracy like Iran rather than a democracy? Or is it going to truly open up Egypt towards becoming a pluralistic democracy? The decrees made many on the left fear that Egypt was sliding towards the former than the latter.

3. Boiling Point

The Islamists and the secularists had competing demonstrations, which finally led to the confrontation of both groups on December 5th in front of the Presidential Palace, where six deaths and hundreds of injuries resulted.  This led to recent negotiations where Morsi has apparently agreed to back down or rescind decree 6 (granting unlimited powers) and limiting the power of decree 2 (ability to override the judiciary). However, he still is insisting that the constitution drafted by the Muslim Brotherhood is “fast-tracked” for a vote on December 15th.

For more detailed analysis, I urge you to visit Esam Al-Amin’s article in Counterpunch: http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/12/07/in-egypt-when-democracy-is-not-an-option/

4. What is the role of the United States in this crisis?

The Egyptian blogger Big Pharoah says the low-key reaction from the Obama administration seems to give tacit approval to Morsi as the legitimate alternative to the Mubarak regime. You can contrast this to the US government’s protests against the actions in Syria, which is not a client state of the US.

5.  What is the next step in the crisis?

The next step is the vote on the constitution which is scheduled for December 15th (this coming Saturday). Many leftists or liberals have called for a boycott of the election, but in the opinion of Prof. Juan Cole at Informed Comment, that would ensure the success of the constitution. He understands their concerns that the rushing of the constitution to a vote does not allow people in Egypt to have a proper national debate. However, if a coalition of liberals, leftists, and Muslim centrist defeat the constitution in the vote on December 15th, this would definitely allow a proper national debate.

We’ll see what happens on December 15th!

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