Since November 22, Egypt has faced a political crisis unlike any other since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. Liberal and secular Egyptians have taken to the streets in large showings of strength, and anger, towards President Mohammed Mursi and his presidential decree that delivers powers unthinkable following the January 25 Revolution. Many of the protesters have called for his removal, likening him to Mubarak himself. Name-calling and anti-Mursi slurs have been chanted from the main Tahrir Square.
On the other side, supporters of Mursi, those who hail from the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultra-conservative Salafist ranks, have also taken to Egypt’s streets, showing their strength in numbers and calling for the full implementation of Islamic law, or Sharia.
Egypt it is at an impasse. Making mass even more disturbing, the government moved through a draft constitution within a one-day period last week that has both sides in what has become a near perpetual battle, online, on the streets and even in households.
Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood claims they are supporting the revolution and its goals, although any observer knows full well they were not in Tahrir in January and February 2011. The Brotherhood has responded to demands by those in Tahrir now that this is the democratic will of the people. Certainly, there is some truth to the argument that they have more of a democratic backing than the liberal groups, but this falls short after Sunday’s demonstrations in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court that forced the country’s top judges from meeting to rule on the legality of the drafting committee and the Upper House of Parliament. That’s not democratic, as leading opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei pointed out on his personal Twitter account, saying there is “a difference between democracy and demagoguery.”
With a dangerous constitution being put forward that enshrines Islam as the basis of future legislation – and with conservative Islamic groups leading the government this is an extremely hazardous prospect – and the equality of women non-existent, Egypt is heading down a dark path that could very well result in further civil strife.
Throughout the clashes, the tear gas, the protests and the political machinations on both sides, each claiming some sort of popular backing, of which both have claims to – look at the parliamentary and presidential voting and we see a very divided country – two things have stood out, which could ultimately direct Egypt toward a path that saves the revolution and the future of democracy in the country.
The judicial system is vital to the success of the democratic project in Egypt. Without a judiciary able to check any power grab, as Mursi’s presidential decree aims, Egypt cannot have a successful democracy. Banding in front of the court on Sunday as Muslim Brotherhood supporters did will only divide and fracture a people and a government that should be working for the betterment of society. It highlights a growing fear that has plagued Egypt since the Brotherhood and Salafists won a near majority in the now disbanded Parliament last November and December: will there be future elections? If the Brotherhood is to resort to tactics that can only be described as thuggish, one must begin to question their continued support of democracy. Will they turn towards an Iranian style movement that disallows future elections? If Sunday is an example, this could be the direction the Brotherhood aims to take. Let us hope this is not the case.
Last Tuesday, while watching thousands of Egyptians take to Tahrir to protest against Mursi’s presidential decree, I spoke with a middle-aged man about why he was there. His answer was simple: “I am a Muslim. I fear God, but we cannot have Islamic law and dictatorship when we can’t get enough food. That is what Mubarak did.”
The liberals in the country should hone in on that belief, which is widespread across the country. The Brotherhood may be continuing to brainwash part of population, but the vast majority of Egyptians are not taking the bait. They understand what is at stake. Talking with shopkeepers and average citizens over the past 10 days it has become clear that Egyptians, for the most part, do not support Mursi’s power grab. But at the same time they are tired. They are fed up with the constant clashing and political back and forth.
Egyptians want a country that gives them their rights. Those might not be the full freedoms that the liberal community wants, but it is certainly not the rigid Islamic law that the ultra-conservatives and the constitution is attempting to push. Egyptians remain a moderate society and outwardly religious. This is the time, after days of conflict, for the liberals, their leaders, to take the message of moderation to the people, offer compromise and convince them that a “no” on the constitution will help build the future that will bring a better life for the people.
(Joseph Mayton is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Bikyamasr.com)