Morsi's Egypt: More Continuity than Change

2012-12-01 18:23

In his interview with Time magazine, Egypt’s President Morsi went out of his way to burnish his democratic credentials – thereby making clear the difference between his own presidency and that of his autocratic predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.

In the interview Morsi stated, “We are keen in Egypt, and I am personally keen right now, on maintaining freedom, democracy, justice and social justice”. He goes on in the interview to stress that it is the people who are the source of power.

Despite, the rhetoric, Morsi’s actions prove that there is more continuity than change in post-revolution Egypt. His recent decree which provided him with legislative and near autocratic powers above the law was seen by many as a power grab in the Mubarak tradition.

This attempt at the centralization of power was followed by Islamists drafting a constitution which stressed more continuity than change from the recent past.

This continuity is most evident in terms of the power and privileges of the military. The Minister of Defence, for instance, is to be chosen by military officers, making a mockery of civil-military relations. The military also retains its power to try civilians in military courts. These changes confirm rumours that the Muslim Brotherhood and the military have reached some agreement which makes Egypt’s democracy all the poorer.

Other aspects of this draft constitution also remain problematic. There is no clause explicitly stating whether women or religious minorities are to be protected. The latter holds special importance for the 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million-strong population who are Coptic Christians whose have been facing religious persecution, including the burning of churches in recent months.

Women, too, have expressed concern at the fact that the constitution calls on the state to play a role on upholding family values. Would this mean upholding patriarchy? In other words, what constitutes family values?

Morsi and his allies however miscalculated with regards to both the decree and the constitution. They have misread what the Egyptian revolution was all about. It was not just directed against the person of Mubarak but also what he stood for – authoritarianism. One of the enduring legacies of the revolution was that the culture of fear of the state and its organs has eroded. Secularists, leftists, Christians, women’s rights activists have all mobilized under the banner of the National Salvation Front. Judges are on strike, a mass campaign of civil disobedience has been gaining ground and Tahrir Square is once more occupied by tens of thousands who refuse to allow a new pharaoh to dictate to them.

Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood may be feeling the heat and have started to backpedal from their autocratic positions. Morsi’s spokesperson notes for instance that the powers Morsi granted to himself were only provisional and that only “decisions related to `sovereign matters’ will be protected from judicial review”.

This popular pressure needs to be maintained if Egyptian democracy is to survive. The international community needs once again to support the Egyptian street.


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