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Events of the past few weeks since Morsy issued his November decree can be described as — to appropriate British parlance — an utter “omnishambles.” Midnight decrees rescinding previous ones, 2 am about-turns on decisions taken hours before, all add to the farcical turn of events that is supposed to culminate in a referendum on a hatchet job of a draft constitution so littered with vagaries it will only sustain this imbroglio for years to come.
Rather interestingly is the tack of some (many) who read all this as an attack on democracy. No, not the Morsy madness, but the opposition to it. The reason? Morsy is a democratically elected leader. He has a democratic mandate. Those who oppose Morsy are sour undemocratic cretins infiltrated by regime remnants to overthrow legitimacy. Absolute rubbish.
Let’s begin at the beginning. Morsy currently holds both executive and legislative powers. Not content with that he decides that he needs to ensure that the one remaining branch of governance not directly under his control does not pose a threat to him, and by extension his constituent assembly and the Shura Council. Embalming it in the glory of protecting the revolution (because he’s oh-so-obviously-fixated on reforming the Ministry of Interior for example) Morsy includes a catch-all clause that grants him the right to take whatever measures he sees fit to safeguard the revolution, national unity and national security. Whatever the hell that means.
At this point if you’re even the most dispassionate of observers, you’re thinking this is a bit worrying. Trust me, Morsy says, this is to defend revolutionary gains from the Mubarak cronies in the judiciary, it’ll be gone before you know it, after I pass my constitution. At first he tries a little arm-twisting: either pass my constitution or I keep my powers. He eventually drops this after much pressure, but not before calling for the referendum.
The Muslim Brotherhood love democratic catchphrases. One of their favorites is “checks and balances.” With Morsy holding executive and legislative powers, and making himself unassailable to legal challenges, there are no checks, no balances. The only check, the only balance, is the street. So people march, they demonstrate, street action is the only available recourse to the democratically elected leader who has usurped powers that your friendly tin-pot despot can only dream of. But no, they’re undemocratic, they want to overthrow the country’s legitimate ruler. Because protest is not permissible in a democracy, it seems.
What’s ironic is that Morsy, his brotherhood and its political arm the Freedom and Justice Party have only themselves to blame for the situation they are in. By aiding and abetting a botched transitional period, supporting the SCAF roadmap to stability (and electoral gain) has left them open to the myriad legal wrangling that have engulfed the country post-Mubarak. No stability, just judicial pain. They have it all now, but in reality, their hold on it is extremely tenuous. If only a civilian transitional government with the amended 1971 constitution was in temporary effect until a new one was drafted, with both presidential and parliamentary elections held under that auspice. If only.
And then came the bloodshed on 5 December.
The FJP sent supporters to disperse the opposition protesters from the perimeter of the presidential palace. It was sanctioned. Morsy must have known. If he didn’t, then he should resign immediately because he didn’t condemn it. And if he knew then he should be brought before a court. There is no excuse. The president, the head of state, knowingly allows his supporters to come and disperse protesters. Not his police forces, not his army, his Brotherhood. It beggars belief. The Brotherhood helped defend Tahrir Square during the Battle of the Camel when Mubarak’s cronies did the same, how could it come to this? Nine people are dead, many of them from the Brotherhood. During the fighting, Morsy supporters detained and tortured people, in the presence of the police.
5 December was a watershed, now there is blood with the Brotherhood as well as with the Mubarak coterie, the police and the military.
Seemingly, the Brotherhood believes it is under attack, that there is a plot, a conspiracy to unseat it from power. This is cemented by the attacks on Brotherhood and FJP headquarters across the country. It is this belief that has them reacting in such an erratic manner. And some Western commentators have bought this reasoning hook, line and sinker. But they should tread carefully; the Brotherhood has been accused of burning down police stations on 28 January 2011. They were even more recently accused of being behind the Battle of the Camel. Zany conspiracies with little evidence are a dime a dozen here in Egypt.
The Brotherhood have been scathing about the role of the police in all this, its failure to secure the headquarters, even though police forces were — when involved — usually tear gassing the opposition 5 December. Mubarak believed the revolution was a conspiracy, the military junta thought everything was a conspiracy, and now we have the Brotherhood thinking there is a conspiracy against it by the deep state. The deep state, lest we forget, that it shook hands with for the sake of political expediency. You shook hands with the devil, and you didn’t try and reform it, and you will cement its privileges in the draft constitution.
What grates about the willingness to buy into fanciful conspiracies is the insinuation that Egyptians — all of them — have no agency and are mere puppets of surreptitious hands that control them at will. It is grossly insulting and demeans incredible sacrifice willingly given through incredible conviction since 25 January 2011 and even before.
The opposition on the streets is real, it is broad and it represents a wide cross-section of Egyptian society. And yes, they don’t like what Morsy has been doing. Accept that, for the good of the country. Besides, Morsy has already set a dangerous precedent by displaying a willingness to resort to extraordinary measures if he feels the need. How reassuring for the future of our nascent democracy.
A Salafi protester made a fair point to me during the pro-Morsy rally at Cairo University. He said that if it was a secular president in the palace who was ignoring a prominent section of society, then Islamists would be filling Tahrir Square. After all, that has happened in the past two years, it’s obvious that in current circumstances you can’t go it alone, and issuing surprise decrees with all-encompassing powers will not bridge that divide.
When he assumed the presidency, Morsy had a choice between aligning himself with the deep state, which the Brotherhood now feel has betrayed them and the revolutionary base that could have offered something different. Sadly, Morsy and the Brotherhood made their choice some time ago, and Egypt is paying for it.
And here’s some truth. No one has ever really run Egypt, no one can control it. Mubarak ruled with a perception of power in people’s minds that crumbled in a mere 18 days, his power, his despotism, his vile security apparatus, everything. The army didn’t control Egypt either, and nor do the Brotherhood, that’s why they see conspiracies everywhere. No one does, and no one will until there is a time when the rule of law is truly entrenched and implementable and no one — least of all the president — can see fit to undermine it.
Abdel-Rahman Husssein is a journalist at Egypt Independent. This article first appeared on his blog Sibilant Egypt.