Monday, December 10, 2012

Egypt's unfinished revolution

Egypt is experiencing the throes of the third phase of its political and social revolution. Tanks have been ordered onto the streets of Cairo. And a new concrete wall is going up in the street leading to the presidential palace.

As a struggle for power grips the country, Egypt’s opposition has decided to boycott the constitutional referendum being forced through by the ruling Muslim Brotherhood despite the concessions offered by president Mohamed Morsi.

In massive protests five people were killed and over 200 injured, many by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in orchestrated attacks. More demonstrations are planned for tomorrow against plans to push ahead with the referendum.

Although Morsi has rescinded most of the powers he had grabbed on 22 November in a decree in which he had set himself above the law, he has now allied himself with the leadership of the armed forces in a desperate bid to cling to power.

Demonstrations around the country accused him of  “stealing the country” and following in the footsteps of deposed president Hosni Mubarak. Some six Morsi advisers abandoned him last week and largely moderate Islamic academics at Al-Azhar university called for the measures to be rescinded.

Essam al-Amir, the head of Egyptian state television has resigned and journalists working for the state media channels have sided with the street. One female broadcaster even held a shroud in front of the cameras, recalling those who had died in the 2011 revolution to overthrow Mubarak. The crisis within the media – attacked for not showing the massive protests - extended to Egyptian Al Jazeera.

Morsi’s backdown on the decree granting him pharaonic dictatorial powers was intended to defuse the raging political crisis. In fact, it is leading to greater turmoil. The military has been given “extraordinary” powers through a 15-member national defence council.

Playing cards with the devil, Morsi hopes that by aligning himself with the military – which still owns and controls large parts of the Egyptian economy – it will continue to defend him and his regime.

Morsi’s new constitution would give increased powers to Muslim clerics by making them arbiters for many civil rights, and provide a constitutional basis for citizens to set up Saudi-style religious police. These would monitor morals and enforce segregation of the sexes, impose  Islamic dress codes and mete out punishments for “crime” like adultery, regardless of what secular law states. 

It has been strongly criticised by the United Nations Human Rights commissioner, Navi Pillai. She said it would concentrate powers in the hands of the president, undermine the independence of the judiciary and weaken a range of international treaties that protect civil and political rights.

Within Egypt, critics argue that the constitution drafting process was not representative of the country, especially after numerous groups, including women’s rights organizations, Coptic Christians and liberal leaders withdrew after saying the Islamists would not compromise on any issue.

Running alongside the crisis over the referendum, is widespread anger over November’s negotiations over the $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan to Egypt. Many believe that Morsi smuggled through its agreement with the IMF under the cover of the Gaza crisis. Part of this was a new round of tax rises on popular items, which Morsi has now withdrawn – at least for the time being.

Morsi’s floundering regime is walking a fine line between the army and massive popular anger. This is indeed an expression of the incomplete Egyptian revolution. Some describe the present moment as Egypt 3.0.

As Adam Hanieh, wrote in an article by for the ezine Jadaliyya, in the months following Mubarak’s overthrow: “The uprising cannot be reduced to a question of ‘democratic transition’ –precisely because the political form of the Egyptian state under Mubarak was a direct reflection of the nature of capitalism in the country, the uprising implicitly involved a challenge to the position of these elites.”

In the end, defending and extending the Egyptian revolution is not about setting a Muslim Egypt versus a secular Egypt, but solving the question of power so that the mass of the people control their lives, their economy and their state.  

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

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