Monday,20 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1124, 29 November - 5 December 2012
Monday,20 November, 2017
Issue 1124, 29 November - 5 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Backlash

Amira Howeidy on how President Mohamed Morsi’s constitutional declaration backfired 

Al-Ahram Weekly

A week into the political crisis caused by Mohamed Morsi’s constitutional declaration of 22 November and the president is arguably weaker than at any time since his election. The decree placing his decisions beyond any legal appeal, and providing the same legal immunity to the Shura Council and the Constituent Assembly drafting the new constitution, immediately triggered a dramatic uproar that has grown louder by the day.  
Morsi’s reactions suggest he had failed to anticipate the backlash. On Friday, in his first attempt to contain growing tensions, he gave an improvised speech to supporters rallying in front of the presidential palace in Heliopolis. It served only to further antagonise critics who accuse him of playing to his Muslim Brotherhood constituency instead of working for all Egyptians.
On 26 November he met with the Supreme Judicial Council. While Morsi’s supporters were at pains to spin the meeting as an attempt to find a compromise it resulted in a terse presidential statement explaining that the legal immunity extended only to the president’s “sovereign decisions”, a phrase so ill-defined as to be meaningless.
If the meeting was intended to defuse tensions it failed spectacularly. A protest scheduled on Tuesday in Tahrir Square drew up to 100,000 protesters, the largest anti-Muslim Brotherhood demonstration ever held.
While the overall message was rejection of the constitutional declaration, the opposition was far from united in its demands.
Some demanded Morsi’s expulsion from office. Others called for rescinding the constitutional declaration entirely. There were those, including Mohamed Al-Baradei, who warned the declaration could open the door for a return of the military. The most nuanced response was to approve some parts of the declaration — replacing the controversial prosecutor-general, Hosni Mubarak appointee Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, and retrials for the former dictator and his henchmen — while rejecting the president’s placing himself beyond any judicial review. Should Morsi amend the constitutional declaration these differences may well serve as the fissure that breaks the opposition.
Revolutionaries, too, found themselves in an awkward position. Suddenly they were standing side by side with fulul — the remnants of Mubarak’s regime — in Tahrir Square — epicentre of the uprising that overthrew the former president. Both spoke against Morsi’s declaration and against the Muslim Brotherhood from whose ranks the president hails. Both were chanting for the downfall of his regime.
Wael Gamal, a columnist in Al-Shorouk newspaper and member of the Socialist Alliance Party, is reminded of Mubarak-era days when elements of the left allied with the regime against Islamists. He finds it unsettling that “similar sentiments are now being voiced across opposition parties and groups.”
The massive turnout in Tahrir has given the opposition a boost but it will not be decisive, says Gamal. He argues that the tipping point will come only if the wider masses take to the streets. And that, he says, is most likely to happen when the austerity measures demanded by the International Monetary Fund in return for its $4.5 billion loan to Egypt begin to be applied by the government.
“The mobilisation then won’t be the same. It will not include the same segments visible in Tuesday’s rally.”
The plethora of pro- and anti-declaration press conferences held by factions within the judiciary and among lawyers and journalists underlined how Morsi’s actions have exacerbated the already deep polarisation within Egyptian society, provoking what is probably the worst crisis for the Brotherhood in decades.
For years the Brotherhood was victimised by Mubarak’s regime, accruing public sympathy on which the organisation was able to capitalise at the polls, allowing Morsi to win the presidency with 51.7 per cent of the popular vote in last June’s presidential run-off against Mubarak stalwart Ahmed Shafik. Now, though, it is the Brotherhood, and its erstwhile member Morsi, who are increasingly being perceived as dictatorial.
By granting the Constituent Assembly legal immunity Morsi handed it what it least needed — more controversy. Selected in February by parliament in accordance with the constitutional referendum held in March 2011, the 100 member assembly was dissolved by court order in April on the grounds that its members included MPs even though the mechanism for electing the assembly approved in the March referendum left it up to parliament to choose who should join. A new assembly was formed in June after political forces agreed membership be split equally between Islamists and the opposition. But after months of disagreements at least 13 secularists have resigned from the assembly over the past two weeks, citing the Islamists’ refusal to enter into any compromise over the drafting process as their reason for leaving.
A new case filed against the assembly was before the courts and could well have resulted in it being dissolved until Morsi stepped in to place it beyond legal appeal. Were the assembly to be dissolved the constitution writing process would be back to square one, leading to further delays in legislative elections and yet another extension of the current limbo.
Under the constitutional declaration announced by Morsi on 11 August, following his sacking of military leaders, the president has the right to form a new constituent assembly. Instead, Morsi opted to make it impossible to dissolve the current assembly, thereby exacerbating the controversies that have already disrupted the assembly’s work. And by failing to provide the public with a convincing explanation of his motives Morsi fanned suspicions that the Constituent Assembly was never intended to be anything but a Brotherhood fait accompli.
Common ground could have been sought. Many revolutionaries share Morsi’s concern about the influence of fulul within the judiciary and other state institutions. Yet rather than consult with his advisors and seek a consensus capable of marginalising such influence the president embarked on a unilateral, and clumsy, power grab.
His actions beg a host of questions. Who advised Morsi? Who wrote the constitutional declaration for him if his advisors and vice president Mahmoud Mekki — reportedly angry to the point of resigning — did not? How involved in the process was the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau? And perhaps most pertinent, how many votes will such a cack-handed move cost?
Last week Morsi was being hailed as a statesman on the international stage for his handling of Israel’s bloody assault on Gaza. But a week in politics is a long time. Now people are asking whether he can complete his term in office.

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