Another Arab Spring for Egypt?

Changes to the constitution have led to countrywide protests and even deaths. Could Egypt be witnessing the birth of another revolt?

Anti Morsi protests in Tahrir Square Nov 27 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)
Anti Morsi protests in Tahrir Square Nov 27 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)
The recent “constitutional declaration” by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has created quite an uproar among Egyptians. The new president apparently intends to put himself above the law and wrest control of all three branches of the government: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. Like dictators throughout history, he promised that this total control of power will only be “temporary.”
Egypt has not reacted to this outrage with equanimity. Massive protests began on Tuesday as hundreds of thousands filled major squares in Cairo and other cities. Leftist, liberal, and independent groups called for Friday protests to reject the so-called “constitutional declaration.”
Morsi needs to be clear whether or not he will respect the decisions of the Supreme Constitutional Court. If he chooses to reject the current legal system of the country, the people could likewise disregard the results of the elections which brought him to power, being that they were declared by that same legal system.
The president has been roundly condemned for his recent move, resulting in attacks on Muslim Brotherhood offices across the country, with some of them being set on fire. In addition, and for the first time in Egyptian history, the judges of the Court of Appeals went on strike in defiance of the new dictatorial declaration.
In defense of the president’s decision, members of the Muslim Brotherhood resorted to a level of violence that resulted in serious injuries and left some people dead.
The election results that brought the MB president to power belie the reality of how Egyptians truly feel. The people are now turning against both Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. The economic collapse, broken promises, and the exposure of negative aspects of the Islamists in the mainstream media play major roles in the demise of the Brotherhood’s public image. Morsi won the elections with only a very slight majority (51%). Following his recent power grab, it is therefore not hard to imagine the likely outcome if elections were to be held again. Egyptians are now rejecting not only Morsi and his new constitution, but also the Islamist agenda in general.
The Islamist authors of the new constitution are trumpeting the fact that they have left Item 2, which deals with the role of Sharia in implementing new laws, as it was under deposed president Hosni Mubarak. This gives the free world the illusion that Sharia will continue to be a non-factor in the law of the land. However, they are going to great lengths to hide the fact that certain revisions, including Item 219[i], redefine Sharia in such a way that--if implemented—will thrust Egypt back to medieval times, completely cut off from modern civilization.
Contrary to the former constitution, the new one no longer respects international agreements, such as the rights of women and children. For example, the age limit for marriage is no longer stipulated so that now—in accordance with traditionally accepted Sharia Law— 9–year-old girls will be allowed to marry. In other words, the new Islamist constitution will legalize pedophilia. In addition, the unequivocal prohibitions against slavery in the former constitution have been removed. Since slavery is a Sharia-backed Islamic principle, it can now be legally reinstituted. Finally, the draft does not include a clear ban on human trafficking or an obligation to adhere to international rights treaties.
The thought that Egypt could become another Sudan, Taliban, or northern Mali is of great concern to many Egyptians and as a result, revolt against the Islamists is slowly turning into a matter of life and death.
The MB realizes that its hold on power is shaky at best. The only way to hang on is to give Morsi complete control so that he can prevent any legal action against himself or the committee that is drafting the new constitution. Morsi and his cohorts are aware that if they must act now to institute their agenda through legal and constitutional channels, since, given the rapid decline in their popularity, they are very unlikely to get another chance.
Secular and liberal opponents of the Islamists are beginning to unite against the common enemy. But their failure to offer any concession to the role of the military in the new Egypt will likely make them hesitant to intervene in the current turmoil. The MB was wise enough to allow the military certain privileges under the new constitution so that it does not turn against them.
In order to avoid total chaos and another revolution, the following three things must happen:
, the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt must issue a statement warning Morsi that he has 48 hours to recant his illegal declaration, or he will face impeachment for breaking his oath to respect the law and the current Egyptian constitutional.
Second, the US needs to inform Morsi in no uncertain terms that he should not expect any support from the US – financial or otherwise – if he insists on undermining the rule of law that he promised to uphold.
Third, the international community must hold Morsi responsible for any loss of life that results from his refusal to recant his illegal declaration. The Arab Spring in Egypt was a call by the people to rally against antiquated laws that were in direct violation of modern principles of democracy. In light of this, Morsi needs to face the reality that Egyptians can once again take to the street to oust him just as they had done with his predecessor.
[i] Article 219 is new. It states: "The principles of Sharia include general evidence and foundations, rules and jurisprudence as well as sources accepted by doctrines of Sunni Islam and the majority of Muslim scholars."
Thewriter is an Islamic thinker and reformer, and one-time Islamicextremist from Egypt. He was a member of a terrorist Islamicorganization JI with Dr. Ayman Al-Zawaherri, who later became thesecond in command of al-Qaida. He is currently a senior fellow andchairman of the study of Islamic radicalism at the Potomac Institutefor Policy Studies.