Far from abating, mass demonstrations against Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi
and the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood are intensifying to the extent that
there is now real potential for a new revolution.
Though the president
was elected through free elections, every day he loses a bit more of his
He is confronted today by a large coalition of non-Islamist
parties belonging to all opposition forces. The Left, the Nasserists and the
Liberals are now coordinating their action through a common National Salvation
Front headed by former UN nuclear watchdog head Mohamed ElBaradei, assisted by a
number of important leaders such as former MP Hamdeen Sabahi and former Arab
League head Amr Moussa.
This week, in a new and major blow for the
regime, nongovernmental media joined the fray: Independent newspapers, papers
belonging to political parties and a number of television channels are now
openly opposing the president.
Several presidential assistants
This is no longer a transient phenomenon that Morsi – who is
well aware of the fact that he received barely 25 percent of the vote in the
first round of the presidential election – can afford to ignore. He is facing a
massive popular uprising very similar to what happened in the first days of the
revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak two years ago.
In fact, this week,
by having his government issue a decree calling on the army to help police and
security forces ensure the protection of the referendum on the constitution,
Morsi essentially admitted that he had lost his legitimacy and had to rely on
the army to keep his seat and implement his program. To that end, the army was
tasked with protecting civil institutions and granted extraordinary powers, such
as the right to arrest civilians and bring them to justice.
those powers are limited in time and will expire with the conclusion of the
referendum and the publication of the results. Nevertheless, this is a return to
the infamous emergency laws of the previous regime that were canceled by the
Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. By letting the army intervene in internal
affairs, the regime is acknowledging that it is no longer in control and cannot
rely on the civilian institutions in charge of keeping law and order – such as
the police, security forces and judiciary.
A few days previously the army
had called on all parties to put an end to violence and peacefully solve the
dispute on the presidential declaration and referendum, warning that it would
not “let the country plunge into a catastrophe.”
This was perceived as a
sign that the army was reluctant to get involved, though the Brotherhood
immediately hailed the army declaration while the opposition remained
In fact, The army has nothing to gain by intervening, unless there
is a real risk of the conflict degenerating into civil war. The generals have
not forgotten their failure in running the country during the interim period
between the fall of Mubarak and the presidential election. Indeed, they did not
demonstrate any political astuteness, first killing protesters and then making
it possible for the Brotherhood to achieve power. They would prefer to remain
neutral, especially since the proposed constitution that will be voted upon in
the referendum Saturday answers all their demands.
There is a special
chapter in that constitution stipulating that the National Defense Council,
which is to be set up with the military holding the majority, will be in sole
charge of the army budget – and of its economic empire, though this is not said
in so many words.
The defense minister will be chosen from the ranks of
senior army officers, while army courts will remain independent and have the
right to judge civilians “having attacked the army.”
president will not be able to declare war without prior consultation with the
Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and parliamentary agreement.
words, the army will keep its special status and preeminence – as it has always
done in Egypt.
What remains to be seen is whether there will be a
compromise between Morsi and the Brotherhood on the one hand, and the opposition
on the other. Should one or both remain adamant, this might led to an explosion
of violence forcing the army, however unwillingly, to intervene.
things stand today, the opposition gives no indication of being willing to stop
demonstrations as long as the president maintains the referendum.
argues, rightly, that the constitution was drafted hastily a scant few days
after the publication on November 22 of the presidential
This declaration gave Morsi not only all judiciary powers
but also granted total immunity to his decisions, making them impossible to
overturn. Not only was the constituent assembly massively dominated by
Islamists, most of its non-Islamist members – including all Coptic Christian
delegates – had resigned or were boycotting its sessions.
In other words,
the proposed constitution is illegitimate since it was not drafted on the basis
of a wide consensus of all political forces. The opposition therefore demands
not only that the referendum be canceled, but also that a new constituent
assembly be formed to formulate a new constitution – which will do away with the
many disputed issues disseminated among its 236 articles in order to veil its
overall Islamic nature.
No less than 43 appeals are pending in front of
the High Constitutional Court, asking for the constituent assembly to be
dissolved. In his presidential declaration, Morsi had deprived the court of the
right to dissolve the assembly; having canceled his own declaration, the court
was due to renew its debates.
However, the Brotherhood dispatched
thousands of protesters to block access to the building, preventing several
judges from taking their seats and disturbing the audiences.
had no choice but to suspend is deliberations sine die.
believed that by cancelling his presidential declaration he would pacify the
opposition and perhaps divide it. Yet he did not cancel the referendum, which is
the main focus of the opposition.
The Brotherhood will do everything it
can to remain in power and will fight the opposition to the end. One must not
forget that they are fueled by a powerful religious ideology that is no less
intense than that of the ayatollahs of Iran – both Sunni and Shi’ite, both
believing in the supremacy of Islam and in their sacred duty to impose Allah’s
regime on earth.
It is to be expected that clashes between the
Brotherhood and the opposition will get worse. Most Egyptians do not want an
Islamic regime intent on imposing Shari’a; they want to see the new, democratic
Egypt that was the dream of the young people who took to the streets two years
ago and started the revolution. They are no longer afraid of defying the regime
and fighting for their freedom.
This is a highly volatile situation with
both sides equally determined not to give in.
One could say that a new
revolution has started. Should Morsi even be able to hold the referendum, the
people will not keep quiet, and will keep on fighting attempts to impose
The situation is fraught with danger. It will be interesting to
see what the European Union and the United States will do.
So far they
have been unwilling to acknowledge the reality and are still rooting for the
Brotherhood – a position which has led to a growing anger among the
The writer, a Fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs,
is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.