In the aftermath of Egypt's January 25th Revolution, that ousted former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek, except for the election of President Morsi, just five months ago, Egypt has made little other progress establishing representative democracy. President Morsi is the first, ever, civilian, democratically elected, President of Egypt. Aside from President Morsi's election, Egypt has been unable to complete essential work like writing a new Constitution or seating a working, elected legislative body. The constituent assembly tasked to draft the new constitution is riven by interested factions and stakeholders that can't agree on a draft to submit for voter approval. Ironically, most of the constitutional draft under consideration is widely acceptable and only a few details are holding up the process.
But those battles have become paramount, perhaps because so many other articles in the draft are bland, unobjectionable - and somewhat implausible - pronouncements. One article demands “justice, equality, freedom, mercy, social solidarity [and] camaraderie”; another calls for economic equality and a “decent life for every citizen”. Article 17 protects Egypt’s beaches. “Nobody is against social justice,” said Elijah Zarwan, a Cairo-based senior policy analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations.The specific disagreements are:
So the main arguments have been over items like article 2, which specifies that Islam is the state religion, Arabic the state language, and “the principles of sharia are the main basis for legislation.” That language is unchanged from the previous constitution, which was drafted in 1971.
Controversial articlesNote: Al-Azhar is an esteemed Islamic University in Cairo.
Article 2: Declares Islam the state religion and the "principles of sharia the main source of legislation
Article 4: Regulates Al-Azhar
Article 9: Stipulates that the state should "ensure the authentic character of the Egyptian family"; earlier versions also prohibited blasphemy
Article 46: Citizens have the right to organize, as long as their associations "respect national sovereignty"
Article 68: Declares men and women equal, except where that contravenes "the rulings of sharia"
President Mohamed Morsi occupies an office of supreme executive power and he also constitutes the civilian authority in control of the Egyptian armed forces. But his government has no framework, has no democratic body to enact needful legislation required to operate the government and has no constitution defining, or limiting anyone's powers. For better or worse, President Morsi cut though the Gordian Knot of this intractable tangle by simply consolidating all governmental power into his own office pending popular approval of a new constitutional government.
It's a lot more complicated than just that, of course, but it's a pretty good story and not all of the possible endings are entirely unhappy. If you follow me out into the tall grass, I offer a long and insightful report from Al Jazeera on the disagreements over the new Egyptian Constitution, some good quotes and links to different parts of the story and a bit of punditry, both the commercial variety and my own.
It's a pretty good idea to ask "Who is Mohamed Morsi?" During the election campaign:
Mohamed Morsi became the Muslim Brotherhood candidate for Egypt's presidency after their previous candidate Khairat El-Shater was disqualified in April. Seen as a substitute candidate, Morsi was widely taunted as being nothing more than Istebn (spare tyre in Arabic).Here is a sense of President Morsi, as given in the New York Times at the time of his election:
Even after the two-month presidential campaign, Mr. Morsi remains an unfamiliar figure to most Egyptians. He was living and working in Los Angeles during the tumultuous period after Islamic militants assassinated Anwar Sadat and his successor, Mr. Mubarak, cracked down on the Brotherhood. Those who knew him in America say Mr. Morsi never appeared notably political or religious. But he became a leader in the Brotherhood after his return to Egypt, and he won election in 2000 to the Mubarak-dominated Parliament, and was chosen to lead the Muslim Brotherhood’s small bloc of 18 members, playing a key role in the group’s experiments in multiparty democracy and coalition-building. But as he rose in the leadership, he gained a reputation as a conservative enforcer, known for discouraging dissent.On the other hand, Al Jazeera said this of President Morsi:
Morsi also sacked Egypt's prosecutor general and ordered the retrial of those linked to the killings of protesters.Here is the Al Jazeera video of the report:
The president says he is just protecting the revolution - with the decree to remain in place only until a new parliament is elected, but opposition figures say he has put himself above the law.
This latest decree comes after a series of key events:
During April's presidential campaign, he was called the "spare tyre" candidate because he entered the race only after Muslim Brotherhood's Khairat al-Shater was disqualified
Despite that, two months later he went on to win the election and became Egypt's first civilian leader
In August, he cemented his authority when he sacked army chief Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi
He also scrapped a key constitutional document which gave the military legislative powers and other prerogatives
And most recently, his successful mediation in the Gaza crisis showed that Cairo was still a stabilising force in the region.
So, is Mohamed Morsi really protecting the revolution in Egypt?
It is easy to criticize President Morsi's seizure, for example, of legislative power and his declaration of independence from the courts. How antidemocratic can you get? But some irony is at work here, as well. Consider where these newly seized legislative powers resided before President Morsi's seizure. He took legislative powers away from the military (see Article 56, here), not from the people or their elected legislators. As for President Morsi's conflict with the judiciary, judges are not elected in Egypt, so that is not a matter of representative democracy, either.
I am still giving President Morsi the benefit of the doubt on how he intends to use his emergency powers and how faithfully he will keep his promise to give them up once the people ratify a new constitution. Not everyone sees it the same way, not the least is the opinion (from which I take solace, because she is almost always wrong about almost everything) of Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post, who says its time to brand Egyptian President Morsi as a "tin pot dictator", right now.
The Arab Spring in Egypt looks a whole lot like the Hosni Mubarak tin-pot dictatorship, minus the secularism, good relationship with Israel and reliable partnership with the West. In other words, Egypt now may have Mubarak-style oppression plus Islamist rule.A considerably more nuanced view comes from Steve Clemons, writing for the Atlantic:
No sooner had Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lifted off from the truce photo-op when Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi seized expansive powers reminiscent of Mubarak’s “emergency powers,” which lasted for decades.
Egyptian President Morsi today says that he is committed to democracy and the rights of all Egyptians. He very well could be a power-hungry liar deceiving the nation as many other heads of state have done in the past. On the other hand, he may be telling the truth.Egyptian President Morsi has begun the transition from military to civilian rule of his country, The better angels of the Atlantic's Steve Clemons' nature suggested to him that, like Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Morsi, in Egypt, would seize unprecedented Presidential power and be called a tyrant, but only in order to save the country.
The public's interests are not well served by giving Morsi the benefit of the doubt. The public should protest and should remind him from whence power in the nation is really derived. People should demand their rights; should demand a non-corrupt and fair judiciary; an impartial police and security apparatus. But these things will not happen because Morsi is a benign or generous leader or has a vision of how to fairly evolve and develop the power of other branches of government not under his control.
These judges and their institutions; and then legislators; and perhaps generals must engage and secure their place in the democratic government equation. Indeed for Morsi to become a great leader and deliver on democracy and the successful transition from a dark era to a better one for Egypt, he needs to continue to challenge other weak or rotten sectors of society and should at the same time welcome the institutional battles that will ultimately limit his power.
Is Morsi the kind of leader who will aggrandize total power and then liberalize like a George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? Or is he more like a Lee Kuan Yew who can build a state and the facade of a democratic system while holding tightly to power for decades in all ways that matter?I suppose that Steve Clemons was inspired by Stephen Speilberg's Lincoln now in theaters. I have more in mind to compare a different American, a hero to many, General Douglas MacArthur, in his role as the military occupier of the Japanese Empire after the surrender in the Pacific in 1945.
We don't know the answer yet. But for those surprised by Morsi's moves -- as the State Department reportedly was after having just secured his pivotal support on a Gaza-Israel truce -- only naivete would lead one to believe that a healthy, balanced, checks-and-balance democracy would immediately succeed the kind of autocracy Mubarak mastered.
Although the occupation was nominally an allied enterprise -- MacArthur's title was Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, or SCAP -- it was very much an American show, and there was no doubt who was in charge. As historian Michael Schaller has noted, "From its inception, the occupation became synonymous with its supreme commander. Although few Americans could name the man in charge of the German occupation (General Lucius Clay and, later, John J. McCloy) most could readily identify the top man in Tokyo." In fact, most of the basic principles and policies for the occupation were drawn up by planners in Washington in the last two years of the war (and are contained in a document known as SWNCC 228). While the impression that MacArthur was behind everything that happened in Japan far exceeds the reality, he deserves a great deal of credit for what most people agree was a highly successful occupation. Initiating some policies and skillfully implementing many others, MacArthur helped a defeated and destroyed nation transform itself with remarkable speed.
General MacArthur, as overlord of Japan after World War II, instituted parliamentary democracy on a nation that had never known any such a thing, in place of political institutions that were feudal in character. He did it without going anywhere near religion or religious practices. Something along those lines would make terrific use of the extensive powers President Morsi has seized in Egypt.
In one more irony I've noted, in the debate over the controversial constitutional provisions in Egypt, it is President Morsi and his faction that largely wish to preserve, rather than change, as with Article 2, making Islam "the religion of the State" of the Arab Egyptian Republic. Understandably, both Egyptian Christians and non-Islamic Muslims in Egypt played their own roles in the January 25 Revolution and also have demands for reforming the constitution to make Egypt a secular state. These factions want the Revolution to do two great things, make Egypt a civilian led country and also give the country a secular government. The Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi's supporting factions are content to achieve one big thing, civilian rule, a big change and a big job, by itself. Such Egyptians no more support the secularization of their country than American Republicans do in our country.
Among President Morsi's new edicts is his order for more time for the constituent assembly to complete writing the new constitution. When it arrives, the new constitution will not secularize the state. Another dark cloud for me is that the new constitution will do little or nothing to improve the status of Egyptian women. Egyptian women have little standing with the Muslim Brotherhood, whose strictest ideologues would disqualify women for the office of President. Here is how the New York Times put it:
Five years ago, when the Brotherhood adopted a draft party platform that called for barring women and non-Muslims from the presidency, Mr. Morsi was a chief defender of the controversial planks, inside and outside the group. He argued that Islam required the president to be a male Muslim, in part because the head of state should promote the faith.President Morsi presently appears ready to press on to establish Egypt as a civilian controlled Islamic state where it has always before been a military controlled Islamic state. Aside from that, it will be a while before we know just how much sharia Egyptians want in their lives. The debate continues, as noted here:
Since Mr. Mubarak’s ouster, the Brotherhood has jettisoned those proposed restrictions from its platform, but during the campaign Mr. Morsi said that he personally still thought that only a male Muslim should hold the office
Drafts of the constitution drawn up by the assembly so far indicate it will have more Islamic references than the previous constitution, worrying more liberal-minded Egyptians and Christians, who make up about a tenth of the nation of 83 million. They fear the imposition of social restrictions.Stay tuned. This is far from over.
A key article stating that "the principles of sharia" are the main source of legislation has until now remained unchanged from the old constitution but a new article seeks to spell out what those principles are in Islamic terms.
However, that is not enough for many Salafis who want an unequivocal call to implement sharia rather than wording that they say liberals will use to water down the meaning.