Revolution time again for Egypt?

Mohamed Morsi faces a massive popular uprising very similar to the one that began against Hosni Mubarak two years ago.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi speaking 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi speaking 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 legitimacy.
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 resigned.
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.
In theory, 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 mute.
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.”
Furthermore, the president will not be able to declare war without prior consultation with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and parliamentary agreement.
In other 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.
As things stand today, the opposition gives no indication of being willing to stop demonstrations as long as the president maintains the referendum.
It argues, rightly, that the constitution was drafted hastily a scant few days after the publication on November 22 of the presidential declaration.
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.
The court had no choice but to suspend is deliberations sine die.
Morsi had 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 Shari’a.
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 people.
The writer, a Fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.