As Egyptians were casting their ballots yesterday in the second and final round of a controversial constitutional referendum that divided the nation, Vice President Mahmoud Mekki announced his resignation. The easy explanation would link the VP resignation to the voting. Knowing that the draft constitution is more likely to be approved, and the new charter terminates the post of vice president, Mekki has resigned. Hours after his announcement, unofficial results indicate that more than 60 percent of the Egyptian voters have approved the draft constitution.
Mekki had said earlier he intended to quit once the new constitution adopted. That is why his hurried departure before the official results of the referendum are announced has raised many questions and rumors about real motives behind his move. Mekki's resignation has also triggered mixed reactions. While the Muslim Brotherhood plays down impact of his quitting the post, the National Salvation Front (NSF), an umbrella opposition group led by Mohamed ElBaradei, celebrates the event and considers the move as a break with President Mohamed Morsi. Opponents of the president said VP resignation hours before the results of the referendum meant that he did not want to be associated with the voting process or the approved disputed Muslim-brotherhood-backed constitution.
Let's first examine Mekki's motives for resignation. In a statement, read on state TV, late on Saturday, Vice President said that he has realized that politics didn't suit his professional background as a judge. He added that he had first submitted his resignation last month (on November 7) but events and official duties forced him to stay on, particularly the latest Israeli attack on Gaza and President Morsi's controversial decree on November 22 that blew up a crisis. This explanation remains unclear because fifty-eight-year-old and a prominent judge Mekki should have been realized the difference between a judge and a politician before taking the office in last August. Perhaps, we can rephrase Mekki's statement. Taking the office and allying himself with the Muslim Brotherhood brought Mekki condemnation among his own colleges, particularly from the members of the State Council Judges' Club, and negatively affected his reputation as an independent judge.
Mekki's hurried resignation could be linked to his dissatisfaction with President Morsi's policies and the entire political process. Mekki had never been consulted in advance on any of the president’s moves, including the Nov. 22 controversial constitutional declaration that extended Morsi's already substantial powers and in effect placing himself above the judiciary. Vice President repeatedly announced his opposition to the decree. It was reported that Mekki was unhappy with the decisionmaking process as far as the interference of the Guidance Council of the Muslim Brotherhood in the process as concerned.
The departure of Mekki and several other presidential advisers proves the failure of Morsi to form a broad-based presidential team, consisting of figures belong to different political and ideological orientations. According to an Egyptian commentator, “Everyone from the presidential team has resigned except for the Islamists." The president is left more reliant on the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists.
The departure of Mekki, who took leading role in hosting "national unity" talks, may also suggest his dissatisfaction with results of the national dialogue as far as the 90 new appointees to the Shura (Consultation) Council, the upper house of parliament, are concerned. Once the official results of the constitutional referendum announced, the Shura Council will be handed legislative powers until a new parliament is elected within two months.
Although President Morsi is likely to emerge from a two-round referendum with a narrow victory for the constitution he and his Islamist allies sought, he failed to show leadership. In contrast, his policies have deepened political uncertainty, added instability and alienated many who had backed him, including the resigned vice president.
(Dr. Ayman el-Dessouki is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Cairo University, Egypt.)