Egyptians opt for stability over opposition-led chaos

Developing Just Leadership

Ayman Ahmed

Safar 19, 1434 2013-01-01

News & Analysis

by Ayman Ahmed (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 11, Safar, 1434)

The people of Egypt showed they would not be persuaded to follow the path of instability and chaos. After two years of turmoil, they want peace and stability. They showed it by voting overwhelmingly in favour of the new constitution.

It was a foregone conclusion that the referendum on Egypt’s new constitution would deliver a positive verdict; the only question was the margin of victory. It was staggered over two weeks; the first round was held on December 15 in 10 governorates and the second a week later in the remaining 17 governorates to enable people to cast their ballots. In the first round, 56.7% of the people voted in favor of the constitution. The second round result was even more impressive with 64% voting in favor.

In the weeks leading to the referendum, an assortment of secularists and nationalists that had teamed up with remnants (fulool) of the discredited old regime tried to disrupt the vote by going on a rampage, attacking buildings and killing people. They called themselves the National Salvation Front (NSF) and Mohamed ElBaradei, the former IAEA chief, was chosen as its spokesman (its abbreviation is most appropriate: in the West, when there aren’t sufficient funds in a bank account to cover a cheque drawn on it, the bank returns the cheque, stamped “NSF”; the group does not have sufficient capital in Egypt’s vote bank!).

During the turmoil, 11 people — all of them supporters of President Mohammed Mursi — were killed. Thugs hired by the opposition also injured more than 10,000 people across the country. They used stones, clubs, machetes, Molotov cocktails and even guns. That says much about the kind of democracy and society they want. The security forces that fall under the interior ministry refused to provide protection to the people or apprehend the criminals. It was Mursi’s supporters that apprehended some of the criminals, handing them over to the police. The interior ministry, like the judiciary and most other institutions in Egypt are still dominated by appointees of the Hosni Mubarak dictatorship. The old pharaoh was driven from power on February 11, 2011 but his cronies continue to hold enormous power and plot from behind the scenes attempting to frustrate people’s aspirations.

The opposition’s agitation was based ostensibly on two demands: that Mursi retract his Constitutional Decree issued on November 22 granting him vast new powers and making his decisions immune to judicial review; and that the constitutional draft finalized and approved by the Constituent Assembly not be put to a referendum on December 15 because the secularists and the Copts had boycotted the assembly before it was finalized. Following several weeks of agitation, Mursi invited all opposition leaders for talks on December 8 without preconditions and offered to accept any proposals that were agreed upon by consensus but the principal agitators refused to attend. They demanded he accede to their demands in advance. It was not clear what they would discuss if all their demands were accepted in advance? In any case, the opposition leaders had already been rejected at the polls when they contested the presidential polls last May and June.

It is important to identify the players lined up on each side. Contrary to narrations in the Western and pro-Mubarak media outlets, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) to which Mursi belongs was not the only party against which other parties had ganged up. The FJP had in its corner the conservative Salafi groups such as al-Noor (Light) and Building and Development Parties, Gama‘a al-Islamiyya, as well as moderate parties such as al-Wasat (Center), al-Hadara (Civilization) and al-Asalah (Authenticity). In all, 13 parties as well as the Shaykh of al-Azhar Ahmed al-Tayib participated in the December 8 talks. Also present at the talks was Ayman Nour of al-Ghad Party who is officially part of the opposition camp.

The other side referred to as “secularists and nationalists” encompasses an odd assortment of groups and parties from the far left to the far right. These include such figures as Amr Moussa (a former foreign minister under Mubarak and defeated presidential candidate), Mohamed ElBaradei (who withdrew from the presidential polls fearing defeat), Ayman Nour (al-Ghad Party), Hamdien Sabahi (another defeated presidential candidate), El-Sayyed Badawi (al-Wafd Party) and Amr Hamzawy (remnant of the Mubarak era who has said on national television that the masses cannot be relied upon to decide what is good for them!). How could such divergent groups and persons come together when there is little in common between them? They are only united in their hatred of everything al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoon stands for. While the Ikhwan are no angels, the venom directed at them is unjustified, especially when they have demonstrated at successive polls over the last two years that they enjoy the support of the majority in Egypt.

The opposition camp also includes the Coptic Christian Church and the April 6 Movement that has some of the most vocal and militant youth groups in its ranks. They willingly joined hands with the very remnants of the ousted regime they had vowed to bring down and to put its members on trial for corruption and repression. Now they stand together against an elected president and oppose a Constituent Assembly that was appointed by elected assemblies even as the assemblies were disbanded by Mubarak-era judges. Under what legal authority do these judges sit on the bench delivering judgment against elected representatives of the people when the regime that appointed them was illegal, unelected, and finally forced out of office? All the judgments these judges have rendered over the past two years have been political in nature rather than based on law. This alone disqualifies them from sitting on the bench.

We must, however, consider the opposition’s arguments against the constitution and the tactics they had employed to derail it. Two points were especially highlighted: first, that the constitution would “undermine” women’s rights because it is based on the principles of Islamic Shari‘ah, and second that minority rights are being ignored. The opposition leaders knew that whatever allegations they made would be immediately accepted by the anti-Islamic Western media without verification. Islamophobia is so deeply ingrained in the Western psyche that were a dog to bark at a Muslim, the Western media would proclaim it a hero.

Many opposition leaders alleged that the constitution was turning Egypt into a “religious state” — à la the Islamic Republic of Iran. While this is not true, even if it were, so what? Instead of standing firm on the principle that Islam should be the basis of a constitution in a Muslim majority state, the Ikhwan became defensive. The opposition criticized Article 219 that explains the meaning of Article 2. Article 2 states that “the principles of Islamic Shari‘ah are the main source of legislation.” Interestingly, all groups from every political spectrum including representatives of the Coptic Church have long agreed on this point. In fact, this was also included in Mubarak’s constitution although the old pharaoh used it merely as a ploy.

In the Constituent Assembly, this article was hotly debated. For the record, the secularists, nationalists and Copts were represented in all five drafting committees of the assembly. When they reached an impasse on Article 2, all groups agreed to refer the matter to al-Azhar for a definition. Al-Azhar came up with a 16-word definition that was presented to all the political parties on October 3. Their representatives, including Amr Moussa, Ayman Nour, El-Sayyed Badawi, as well as the Copts, not only agreed to al-Azhar’s definition, but also signed the document confirming their approval. Abulela Madi, chairman of al-Wasat Party and member of the Constituent Assembly revealed this in a December 3 interview with al-Jazeera Mubashir Egypt. Madi had acted as a mediator between the opposing parties when they had reached an impasse on the interpretation of Article 2. Despite their signature on the agreed-upon Article 219, representatives of secular groups withdrew from the Constituent Assembly citing their “objection”’ to it as their main reason.

The opposition’s tactics were aimed at stalling and, therefore, derailing the Constituent Assembly because they knew that if it failed to finalize the draft constitution by December 12, it would automatically stand dissolved as per its six-month mandate. There were also rumors that the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), stacked by Mubarak cronies, would dissolve the Constituent Assembly as well as the upper house (Majlis al-Shura) during its session on December 2. The SCC had already shown its disdain for people’s verdict when it dismissed the elected parliament in June. Several reports had emerged (published on such websites as al-Taghyeer and al-Masreyoon) that pointed to a conspiracy being hatched in the offices of a prominent attorney and businessman, Murtada Mansour who has close ties to the former regime and to the Mubarak family directly. The conspiracy involved destabilizing the country thereby paving way for the ouster of an elected president.

Other conspirators at the meeting were Hamdien Sabahi, Mamdouh Hamza (a wealthy businessman and staunch critic of Islamic parties); Tahani el-Gebali, a judge on the SCC, another vocal critic of the Ikhwan (she had supported the military council during the transition period); Ahmad al-Zand, president of the Judges Syndicate in Cairo, close confidante of Mubarak and a sworn enemy of the Ikhwan; an unnamed former colonel in Mubarak’s security apparatus; as well as an unnamed former senior official of Ahmed Shafik’s presidential campaign. El-Gebali outlined the plan to her co-conspirators. Opposition groups would launch agitation attacking Mursi’s credibility and by creating chaos and mayhem in major cities, they would provide the SCC the pretext to dissolve both the Constituent Assembly as well as the upper house of parliament. The plot would not stop there; they would push for driving Mursi, an elected president, from office. The Americans were aware of this diabolical plot. Mursi hinted at the conspiracy during his televised address on December 6. He also sent the deputy chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party, Dr. Issam al-Erian to Washington to present evidence to the Americans.

It was this plot that forced Mursi to grant himself vast new powers on November 22 to prevent the judiciary from carrying out its illegal act. Following this decree, Mursi sacked the prosecutor general Abdel Maguid Mahmoud who had deliberately botched the case against Mansour and others involved in launching the “Battle of the Camel” in early February 2011 that had resulted in massive injuries among anti-Mubarak protesters.

Against this backdrop, Mursi and his supporters decided to move quickly and frustrate the plot. In addition to preventing the judiciary from disrupting the political process, the Islamic parties also speeded up passage of the 236-article constitution. Holding marathon sessions, they approved the draft on November 30 and presented it to Mursi the next day. What is important to bear in mind is that while the secularists and Copts boycotted the Constituent Assembly, the articles they had insisted on were retained in the constitution. Mursi announced the referendum date for December 15 as required by law that was passed last March. The opposition’s demand that Mursi delay the referendum date would have violated the law everyone had agreed upon nearly a year ago.

The leading figures in the opposition camp — ElBaradei, Amr Moussa, Amr Hamzawy, Hamdien Sabahi and Ahmed Shafik — know that once the constitution is approved, elections to People’s Assembly must be held within two months. Fearing that they would be routed, as they were in the earlier election to the assembly when Islamic groups secured 74% of the seats, they attempted to derail the process by street agitations that bordered on destabilizing the state.

The fulfool (remnants) of the old regime may have lost in the referendum but they have achieved in other areas. The first is that they have gained some legitimacy by hoodwinking a segment of the population, essentially causing them to virtually forget the horrible crimes they had perpetrated against innocent people. Second, through their agitation, they have forced the Ikhwan to compromise on Islamic principles by appealing to the Americans. If the Ikhwan continue on this path, they will pay a heavy price in the near future. Are they no better than a political party at prayers?

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