Analysis: The Greening of Egypt

Will the opposition allow the country to turn the color of Islam?

MOHAMED MORSI, center, prays at Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
MOHAMED MORSI, center, prays at Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There is no longer a parliamentary opposition in Egypt.
With the new, controversial constitution, President Mohamed Morsi has full executive powers; he names the prime minister, the judges of the Supreme Court and the heads of all public institutions.
With the dissolution of the lower house of the parliament, he has entrusted, until the next parliamentary elections, the legislative powers he had taken over to the upper house – where the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists hold 85 percent of the seats.
Only the judiciary retains a measure of independence, and even that is threatened by several dispositions of the new constitution.
Morsi is now making an allout effort to appoint members of the Brotherhood and their supporters to every available position, in spite of the spirited resistance of the judiciary, media and Interior Ministry, where there is a long-standing tradition of opposition to the Brotherhood.
Parliamentary elections that were to be held two months after the constitutional referendum, in February, have been postponed without explanation and are now scheduled for an unspecified date in April. It is generally understood that Morsi wants to ensure that he has everything sewed up tight and can confidently expect victory for his Freedom and Justice party.
Deprived of parliamentary influence, opposition forces are taking to the streets and demonstrating while – in a major surprise – staying relatively united under the banner of the National Salvation Front.
Far from giving up after the constitution was approved, the Front is still demanding the drafting of a new and fair constitution.
The three main non- Islamic opposition forces – the Left, liberals and Nasserists – are even considering setting up a unified list to try to defeat the Freedom and Justice Party.
They are, however, under no illusions: the Brotherhood is going to use every ounce of its considerable influence. This includes some spectacular violations of the law as seen in the referendum vote, in which Copt voters were prevented from reaching polling stations by roadblocks set up around their villages.
The National Salvation Front clarified its position in a January 6 communiqué: All steps leading to the drafting of the constitution and the referendum are tainted. This includes the composition of the constituent assembly, the hurried drafting of a constitution that does not express the will of the people, a flawed referendum rife with fraud, threats and terror, the intervention in the judiciary process and the use of force.
Battle lines have been drawn between Islamists attempting to take over every single lever of power and a secular opposition which so far has no part whatsoever in the running of the country and can only express itself through street demonstrations and press communiqués.
The Front is asking its supporters to maintain pressure on the regime through sit-ins in Tahrir Square and near the presidential palace, while avoiding violence. The opposition is pinning its hopes on the mass rally it is calling for the second anniversary of the start of the revolution – set to happen this Friday. It is also threatening not to take part in parliamentary elections unless suitable guarantees are given concerning their fairness and transparency. This includes 10 essential conditions such as interdiction of political campaigning inside mosques, as well as the establishment of a new government acceptable to all through a balanced electoral process.
The Brotherhood is not responding and there has been no dialogue between its regime and the opposition.
The upper house of parliament has hastened to pass a new electoral law favoring Islamic parties, and has rejected a proposal that would have made it mandatory for each party to include a woman in the top half of its candidates list. That law is still awaiting the verdict of the Supreme Constitutional Court, and could be declared unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, the government is working on a law “regulating” demonstrations – or more accurately, curtailing the right to strike and protest.
Morsi charges on regardless, and behaves as if he is enjoying widespread popular support. He appears not to notice ongoing demonstrations calling for an end to the Brotherhood’s regime, or threats by the opposition to boycott the elections.
He seems unaffected by the resignations of the vice president and a number of presidential advisers in the face of accusations of abuse of power, as well as by the governor of the Central Bank of Egypt, in the face of his refusal to acquiesce in the disastrous economic policy of the government.
Had Egypt been a truly democratic country, the president would have been forced to resign long ago and new presidential elections would have been held.
Morsi is also waging an all-out war against the media – since large sections are hostile to the Brotherhood and what they call the “Ikwanisation” of the country (from Ikwan, Arabic for Brotherhood) – changing textbooks to better conform with the Brotherhood’s doctrine.
As the Arab Network for Human Rights Information said, as quoted on Sunday by News of Egypt, “There were four times as many ‘insulting the president’ lawsuits during President Mohamed Morsi’s first 200 days in office than during the entire 30-year reign of former president Hosni Mubarak... Moreover, the number of such lawsuits during the Morsi era is more than during the entire period dating back to 1909, when the law was introduced.”
Much now depends on the scope of Friday’s demonstration.
Will the National Salvation Front be able to muster enough popular support to show that it is a force to be reckoned with? Or will the opposition lose heart and let itself be steamrolled by a triumphant Brotherhood, poised to paint the country in the green of Islam?
The writer, a Fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.