Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi has fled the presidential palace after thousands of protesters converged outside the building and in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to voice their opposition to a Muslim Brotherhood power-grab, according to reports:
The deepening political crisis has pitted Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president, and his Islamist backers against a broad alliance of young liberals, judges, human rights groups and loyalists of the former government.
The protesters vehemently reject the draft constitution drawn up by an Islamist-dominated panel which, they charge, threatens civil liberties and the rights of women and religious minorities. The constitution must be ratified by a December 15 referendum, but one veteran rights activist believes it will be rejected by the judiciary.
“There’s no way this constitution is going to go through,” said editor and publisher Hisham Kassem. “Even if [Morsi] manages to get it passed on the 15th through a referendum, it’s null and void. It’s a primitive piece of legislation. It’s becoming clear from jurists comments that this is basically a constitution that will take us back 1000 years or so.”
The protests have revived and, at least temporarily, united Egypt’s fractious liberal and secular opposition.
“Morsi has done the opposition a huge favour,” said Mirette Mabrouk, a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution. “He has managed to shake off everyone who was sitting on the fence. He has frightened and unsettled a lot of people.”
Mohamed Aboul Ghar, the leader of the Egyptian Socialist Democratic party, said Mr Morsi’s said his party had attracted as many new members in the past two weeks as it had during the previous eight months. “But will this unity last? There is a question mark here,” he said.
Some secular leaders fear the prospect of political violence.
“It has never been this way before,” said Amr Moussa, a former presidential candidate and opposition leader. “There is no dialogue whatsoever.”
In that atmosphere, the opposition’s escalations and the Islamists’ response has become more combustible, raising the specter of political violence. “I’m afraid of a confrontation,” Mr. Gad said. “I do not want to use the term civil war.”
There was little sign the air would clear soon.
Morsi’s offers of dialogue is “a farce,” said Amr Hamzawy, the founder of the Free Egypt Party and a former member of Parliament, who said the opposition was fighting “a calculated attempt by the Brotherhood to take over Egypt.”
Mr. Hamzawy compared recent Brotherhood rallies to pro-Hitler demonstrations in Germany in the 1930s. “There are great similarities,” he said. “We will not legitimize what’s going on,” he said, raising the possibility of boycotting parliamentary elections that are to be held after the constitution is approved.
“I do not see us breaking apart soon,” Mr. Hamzawy said of the opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, that was formed during the crisis. “We have a historic chance to bring people behind us, and to stand where we belong.”
“Fear grips the majority of Egyptians, who want a true democracy rather than a theocratic state,” writes Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the Al-Dostour (Constitution) party:
The country is threatened by four time bombs that have emerged under the leadership of the military and now the Brotherhood. Our economy is in free fall; at the present pace we will default in six months, especially if the recent instability jeopardises a loan from the International Monetary Fund. Law and order remain elusive, and the impact on tourism and foreign investment is severe. Northern Sinai is turning into a battleground, threatened by jihadist groups coming from Afghanistan and elsewhere. And now, with the uproar over the draft constitution, the country is dangerously polarised.
Many commentators have suggested that the Brotherhood would follow the Turkish model of a civic state informed by Islamic values. But the military was a vital bulwark against Islamist extremism, forcing the AK Party to moderate its ambitions.
The constitution, drafted without input from secularists and Christians and passed Thursday night in a rushed session of parliament, preserves the military’s control over its budget and foreign policy, meaning it can maintain peace with Israel and retain billions of dollars of U.S. aid, Trager says.
“The military gets something in the constitution, and it has an incentive to play along with the Muslim Brotherhood,” he says.
The military remains a significant political player because Egypt’s security forces have not been reformed in any meaningful way, says Omar Ashour, Director of the University of Exeter’s Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies and Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Doha Center:
Morsi, in his effort to force out the prosecutor, will have to avoid opening another front with the Mubarak-era security generals, whom he will need to protect state institutions and maintain a minimum level of public security. The security sector may, it seems, emerge from this crisis as the only winner. It will enforce the rule of law, but only for a price. That price will be reflected in the constitution, as well as in the unwritten rules of Egypt’s new politics.
“This constitutes a much more serious and lasting threat to Egypt’s democratization than do Morsi’s temporary decrees,” Ashour contends.
The opposition remains divided over whether to campaign for a No vote in the referendum or to boycott the poll.
“I am with a No vote” said Khaled Abdel Hameed, a leader of the Popular Socialist Alliance party. “I think we have to fight the battle. We should go out and mobilise for the No. I know there are some in the opposition who want a boycott, as a chance to delegitimise the referendum, but I think we have not reached this stage, Morsi has not reached the dictatorial level of Mubarak.”
Mr Aboul Ghar said he had “slim hope” that the referendum results would favour the opposition.
“But even if we lose we will have learnt to mobilise people,” he said. “If we get a 40 per cent share of the vote, we will have a stronger position and the constitution will be illegitimate and we will show that we are not a zero as they say.”