Monday,23 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013
Monday,23 July, 2018
Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Double jeopardy

Unspecified threats about the actions President Mohamed Morsi will take against the opposition only undermine his authority, writes Dina Ezzat

Al-Ahram Weekly

Speculations are rife about the legal measures President Mohamed Morsi intends to unleash against an opposition and media that he says are conspiring, alongside unnamed businessmen, to challenge his regime.
During a conference on women’s rights Morsi threatened to “detain” anyone he deemed to be tampering with national stability.
“Whoever sticks his finger inside Egypt I will cut it off,” said Morsi. “I see the fingers of people getting inside who have no value in this world. They think that money makes them men.”
The president then suggested it is not unusual after revolutions for nations “to forgo” a few citizens in the interest of the people.
Speculation about the next moves of a president who since November has entered what political commentators fear is an open-ended confrontation with his wide and expanding opposition is rife.
The prosecutor-general, whose legitimacy is questioned as a result of his extra-judicial appointment, has already issued a warrant for the interrogation of five activists — Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Ahmed Doma, Karim Al-Shaer, Hazem Abdel-Azim and Ahmed Ghoneimi — known for their criticism of the president and Muslim Brotherhood rule.
It is an open question whether Morsi’s threats will end there. Most informed sources suggest otherwise.
“We are faced with a situation of open defiance to the rule of a freely elected president. We cannot let things go unchecked if we are serious about retaining security. The president has to act, and it is an overdue step to make sure that violations committed by some political figures, TV anchors and journalists don’t undermine the national interest,” said one high-level government official. “If the current scenes of violence were to continue then it will become impossible to attract investments or to fix the economy. These protests have become unaffordable. This is not about the president or the Muslim Brotherhood but about the country hitting an economic impasse.”
The government is stuck in endless negotiations with the International Monetary Fund to secure a loan of $4.8 billion and ongoing political tensions have not contributed to an early end to the talks. The signing of the deal is a condition for Egypt’s access to other loans.
Western diplomats in Cairo warn that any assault by the state on civil society will not be helpful.
“We are very concerned over speculation that other activists will be detained. We have been very straightforward with the Egyptian authorities. We are keen to help but cannot if there are clear violations of basic human rights or attacks against civil society,” said a Cairo-based European diplomat.
On Monday even the US moved towards the middle-ground between the government and opposition as it expressed concern over the warrant for interrogation of the five activists.
The language of the US, according to a high-level government source in Cairo, is telling.
While President Morsi has shown very few signs that he will willingly accommodate domestic opposition he remains keen to contain any concerns that foreign allies, especially the US and Europeans, might have about his rule.
“This is not proving to be an easy job. Recent attempts by Essam Haddad [Morsi’s senior foreign policy adviser] to convince Europe of Morsi’s good intentions were rebuffed when he was told that Morsi should refrain from copying the ruling style of his predecessor,” said an informed government source.
Ali Khafagui, a member of the ruling Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), insists Morsi has to make sure that the current state of havoc does not persist. “I am not saying that there is pressure on the president to act. What I am saying is that there are demands for the president to refrain from the kind of exaggerated accommodation he has demonstrated so far.”
The package of measures Morsi was expected to issue on Monday but which were suspended, say sources, included the suspension of programmes deemed to “incite public opinion” and the “house arrests of some political figures”.
According to one source, these measures were expected to be enacted by an extraordinary presidential decree rather than via the prosecutor-general the legality of whose appointment by Morsi was questioned on Tuesday by a ruling from the administrative court.
The suspension of this scheme, according to the same source, was prompted by fear of foreign outrage. The suspension of the measures, he added, remains subject to consideration by legal advisors seeking a way for their “appropriate execution”.
An independent political source who spoke earlier in the week with Muslim Brotherhood leaders claims he conveyed “deep worry” about the likely repercussions of any extraordinary measures.
“I don’t think I was the first to pass on that message. There are some within the Muslim Brotherhood leadership who can talk sense,” he said.
Muslim Brotherhood sources deny they are in a state of high-alert over measures the president plans to announce in the next few days to end the state of havoc. But speaking on background, some Muslim Brotherhood members concede the word has been passed around that the president is determined to “retaliate” after the group’s headquarters was attacked on Friday.
“We have not been told what the president will do but we were told that something will happen. No one expects the president to turn a blind eye to the attacks of Friday. Our ranks are already very frustrated,” said one member.
In the assessment of many political and human rights sources, measures Morsi plans to enforce include the prompt adoption by the Islamist-dominated Shura Council of a law imposing restrictions on demonstrations alongside attempts to reign in opposition figures by furnishing evidence of their legal wrong-doing. There are rumours of a concentrated effort to dig out papers from the administrative prosecution on legal and financial violations of some figures associated with the National Salvation Front (NSF).
“They will not go near the leaders. Mohamed Al-Baradei, Hamdeen Sabahi and Amr Moussa are safe but others are vulnerable,” said one security source.
Human rights activist Ahmed Hishmat says he has no worries about either NSF leaders or the activists summoned on Monday by the prosecutor-general for questioning.
“There is no evidence of wrong-doing and the charges of incitement levelled against the five are loose,” he said.
A list of more than 150 activists accused of inciting violence was presented to the office of the prosecutor-general by Brotherhood lawyers. Hishmat said he was “confident” that “should the prosecutor-general interrogate every one of them he will be unable to show anyone was actually involved in any violations of the law.
“What Morsi says and does is designed to intimidate his opponents. But what it reveals is his own insecurity,” said Hishmat.
Morsi’s threats cannot help but call to mind late president Anwar Al-Sadat’s rhetoric before he ordered the arrest of political opponents in September 1981 — dubbed by Mohamed Hassanein Heikal as the autumn of fury.
For political scientist Amr Abdel-Rahman the parallel is moot.
Such exaggerated reluctance of a ruler to heed the calls of the opposition has one ending, he says. The ruler is removed.
“Sadat was killed after the arrests of September 1981 and Hosni Mubarak was toppled after the flagrantly rigged parliamentary elections of 2010. In both cases it was a matter of six weeks or so.”
According to both Abdel-Rahman and Hishmat, Morsi had got himself into a hole last November and he is still digging.

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