Friday,24 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1125, 6 - 12 December 2012
Friday,24 November, 2017
Issue 1125, 6 - 12 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Final destination — Iran?

The rule of President Mohamed Morsi had initially prompted hopes of Egypt’s following the Turkish example, but is the country now heading towards the example of Iran, asks  Dina Ezzat

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Al-Ahram Weekly

“Where is Egypt heading?” This has been an increasingly asked question, with commentators and average Egyptians alike pausing to consider it.
“Since the 25 January Revolution people have been asking where Egypt is heading. But today I don’t care where Egypt is heading because what I care about is to escape Egypt altogether,” wrote Azza, a middle-aged woman, on Facebook in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Azza was getting ready to go to work in order to finish early and run to join what were promised to be massive demonstrations heading for the presidential palace in Heliopolis to protest against the two major political steps taken by President Mohamed Morsi over the past two weeks.
These two steps are Morsi’s issuing of a constitutional declaration that effectively suspended the power of the judiciary in favour of a president who had already annexed the legislature to the executive power and his subsequent decision to offer a highly controversial draft of the country’s new constitution up for referendum despite public appeals for delay.
“Morsi is not acting to serve the nation by these decisions. He is acting to serve his own [political Islam] camp,” said the mother of Khaled Said, the young man who was an icon of the 25 January Revolution, in a YouTube video aired on Monday evening.
According to the mother of this young Alexandrian man who died at the hands of the police in 2010, starting the demonstrations that ended in the 25 January Revolution, Morsi’s actions were unfortunate and would continue to be protested against by Egyptians not subscribing to political Islam.
Morsi knows very well today, according to some of his resigned, resigning, and-would-like-to-resign advisors, that his support now comes almost entirely from those supporting political Islam. He is also dismayed, one of his advisors said, that some Islamists have spoken against his actions, qualifying them as paving the way towards a dictatorial regime.
However, the advisors also say that Morsi has no plans to back down and that he is determined to continue on the same path. The question to which these advisors, like other commentators, do not have a clear answer is where this path is heading.
Similar scepticism about Morsi’s destination is shared among the revolutionaries. “He is not leading this country towards a democratic republic. He is heading towards a new kind of authoritarian rule that is Islamist/military in style, which means he will be an Islamist version of Mubarak,” said Sally, an activist who has been joining what she calls the “demonstrations demanding freedom” since 2005, when only a few score Egyptians dared to demonstrate against the former Mubarak regime.
Speaking as she was heading towards Tahrir Square in order to join the anti-Morsi sit-in on Sunday, Sally acknowledged her fear, shared by revolutionary leaders, that “Morsi might be taking Egypt in the direction of another Iran.”
In the minds of many Egyptians, this has a simple meaning that does not necessarily go into the details of the political system of the monarchy-turned-Islamic-republic in Iran, but has more to do with the “Islamic republic factor” itself.
“When I think of Iran, I think of a country where people are repressed and where only the Islamists are allowed to rule. I think of a country where they force their definition of Islam on others and do not allow any opposition to it,” said Roudinah, a shop assistant.  
Working at a leather products store in Dokki, Roudinah earns some LE700 a month. She keeps half this sum — saving some for her eventual dowry — and gives the other half to her mother to help with expenses.
“If we become like Iran, I might not be able to work and I would not be able to earn any money. I hope this will not happen,” Roudinah said.
The assumption of this 22-year-old woman that women are not able to work in Iran is inspired by the predominant image of Iran as a backward society, and it is coupled with what Roudinah herself has been gathering from the debate over Egypt’s new draft constitution, which is considered by many commentators, feminists and human rights activists to be a serious setback to women’s rights.
The fear of the “Iranisation” of Egypt is not new in the commentary on the rule of political Islam in Egypt. During the Mubarak years, aides to the ousted former president used to warn that the only alternative to the rule of Mubarak was that of the Islamists, who would turn Egypt into a Sunni version of Iran.
According to one western diplomat in Cairo whose four-year term is coming to an end, he was asked whether he wanted Egypt to be another Iran by several aides of the former president and by Egyptian diplomats almost every time he expressed concerns about the attacks of the Mubarak regime on the Islamist opposition.
Today, as this diplomat packs his bags to leave the country, he says he is “not sure” whether Mubarak’s aides were not right.
Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly over the past week, and especially in the wake of the Islamist demonstration in support of Morsi on Saturday, several western diplomats have suggested that a replay of the Iran scenario in Egypt should not be excluded.
Some have said that they have abandoned hopes that Egypt could develop a modern version of Political Islam along the lines of the example of the Justice and Development Party in Turkey.
“The unmasked opposition that some members of [the Muslim Brotherhood political arm] Freedom and Justice Party [FJP] have demonstrated to references to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s commitment to secularism have been a clear indication that what they have in mind is a sort of theocracy. With the new constitution, it looks as if Egypt is going to be another Iran,” said another Western diplomat.
Activist and lawyer Mahmoud Kandil is one of those who fear that Egypt may be heading to being another Iran. For Kandil, the failure of the draft constitution, finalised and voted on without the approval of the Coptic Church and leading non-Islamist members of the drafting committee, meant many illicit constraints on freedoms.
“It is no accident that the constitution fails to make any reference to the International Declaration of Human Rights, or to any of the international obligations that Egypt has committed itself to. We are clearly heading towards a phase of limitations on freedoms, and we can only speculate on how far these limitations will go,” Kandil said.
According to Amr Hamzawy, a professor of political science and the leader of the Misr Al-Hurriya Party, Egypt is heading towards a path of limited freedoms and the intervention of the regime and its supporters in individual freedoms.
What Hamzawy fears, like many other activists and revolutionary forces, is that Article 4 of the draft constitution could allow the establishment of Islamic ethics enforcement groups that might be directly or indirectly condoned by the state.
However, Hamzawy insists, Egypt may not be heading towards the so-called “Iran scenario,” but may instead be heading towards an eclectic Iran-Turkey-Pakistan-type regime that could be worse than any of these independently.
The constitution and the president, Hamzawy said, seem to be establishing what “could at best be called a special state for the military” in Egypt. Like the example of Turkey under Erdogan, Morsi has opted for confrontation with the judiciary, and, also like in Turkey, he has allied the regime to the business community, not excluding the business elite of the Mubarak regime.
Also like in Turkey, the rules are being bent to undermine the opposition.
Hamzawy also said that, like in Pakistan under the rule of former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, and in Iran, Egypt was adopting constitutional regulations that could allow for the infringement of personal rights.
Neither Kandil nor Hamzawy saw much of a role for international pressure to encourage Morsi to reconsider his plans if indeed he had decided to Islamise Egypt. “It will have to be home-grown pressure,” Hamzawy argued.
Western diplomats suggest that concern over the fate of Egypt and its potential Islamisation has not yet reached high levels in their respective capitals, but it is certainly visible in debates there. This is especially the case in Washington, which seems unlikely to be satisfied by the containment of Hamas and other radical Islamist groups in Gaza at the expense of turning Egypt into an Islamist state.
“A radical Islamist state in Egypt? I don’t see this happening no matter what Morsi tries,” said Hadir, an activist in her early 20s. Buying a bottle of mineral water and two packs of soft tissues ahead of the “final warning march” of the non-Islamist protesters on Tuesday, Hadir insisted that Morsi could try to do so, but he would not succeed.
Hadir said that the Islamisation of Egypt was “almost impossible” given the “mild and fun-loving nature of most Egyptians” and “the declining support that the Islamists have in the streets”.
“He cannot amass a sufficient majority to do it. I am not saying he does not want to do it, or that he is not trying to do it, but he cannot do it.”
Independent opinion polls have demonstrated a decline in the approval ratings of Morsi and of those of the political Islam groups in general. The non-Islamist opposition is counting on the failure of Morsi to improve basic living conditions to speed up this declining support.
Speaking to the Weekly on record, members of the FJP insisted that they were certain of continued popular support. “We remain the majority, of course,” said Hamdi Hassan of the FJP.
However, speaking off the record, less senior members of the FJP worry that the support that their Party, and for that matter that other Islamist parties, have today is declining and is less than that which they enjoyed on the eve of the parliamentary elections in 2010, when the Islamists controlled some two-thirds of the parliamentary seats before parliament was dissolved.
According to the same sources at the FJP, the leadership of the party and of the Muslim Brotherhood is not expecting the draft constitution to gain more than a 60 per cent approval rating. There is even the fear, one FJP source admitted, of a slightly over 50 per cent vote in favour of the constitution.
For Khaled, an activist, the question of whether or not Egypt will be another Iran is not for Morsi and the Islamists to decide.
“This is a matter that will also be decided by the performance of the liberal forces. We have seen unprecedented unity among the civil groups, parties and figures recently, and this is something positive we should build on. If we do, then we can be sure that we will not end where the Iranians have ended,” Khaled said.
“It is true that the Islamists are trying to hijack this country and turn it into a model that is only compatible with their visions. But it is also up to us to fight back.”

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