A man walks past an Egyptian army tank deployed outside of the presidential palace in Cairo on December 9, 2012.
Tensions in Cairo continue to escalate by the hour. Protesters are dying in the streets and the presidential palace is under siege with a new wall being built around it.
The recently purged army, quiet until now, enters the fray with a strong suggestion that the major political opponents compromise their differences.
Morsi retracts most of his recent decree, but pushes forward with the December 15th referendum vote. Opposition groups reject the early date on the rushed-through constitution, threatening to boycott the vote. The battle lines are formed for a new constitution to bloom, or to spell its doom.
Where there is endless talk and media over America’s pending fiscal cliff, Egypt now has the spotlight facing its revolutionary cliff. How did we get here from there? Some retrospection is needed to interpret these historical events in this largest Arab county.
The April 6th Movement
The Muslim Brotherhood did not plan or start the current revolution. In fact, they really did not even show up for a while until they saw that victory was possible with the Army not crushing the protesters.
They were followers then, but became the leaders in the end.
I still remember like it was yesterday. The angry young Egyptian lady who made the video challenging Egyptian men, shaming them really, into attending more rallies in Tahrir Square to prevent the police from abusing the women.
These April 6th young people were the tip of the spear and performed with such courage. The Egyptian people, long hesitant toward opposing the Mubarak regime, left the safety of their homes and followed them into the dangerous streets for the future of their country. It was all magnificent.
But as so often happens in revolutions, those that got them going are often quickly shoved aside by the more experienced and entrenched latecomers.
The Muslim Brotherhood
Although they were latecomers to the Revolution they helped tip the scales. They deserve much credit for their many years of suffering and suppression under Mubarak and his police thugs. They earned their revolutionary stripes the hard way - in the torture room, the jails, in exile, and with their broken families. No one would have denied them their well-earned seat at the table.
But there is a big problem with the Brotherhood that is threatening the whole revolution. And that is the elections were rigged in their favor. I don’t mean rigged exactly in the traditional way. When I heard that all polling stations had judges at them, I was envious that America did not use this method. It is needed.
What I mean by rigged is that they had no opposition that could hold a candle to their organization experience. Any major democratic political player will tell you what a do-or-die factor that is. The myriad of fragmented smaller parties that formed, most of them all novices, were really in no position to stop the Brotherhood steamroller, and that is what happened.
There was also the problem of the Brotherhood and the Salafists running ‘independent’ candidates for the seats reserved for real independent candidates. They gave the courts an opening with that trick to undo their work later if need be.
This put the Brotherhood in the driver’s seat for writing the new constitution, which in effect was going to nail the coffin shut on the Mubarak regime.
Enter the Egyptian Courts
The Mubarak holdouts in the judiciary were in a blocking position to prevent a Brotherhood routing of all the other party interests. Groups like the April 6th Movement and ElBaradei’s National Salvation Front found themselves depending on Mubarak holdovers to protect their having any real participation in drafting their first constitution. But what other option did they have, knowing that if successful that a big bill would come due in the future.
Did Morsi get word from his intelligence people that the courts were going to rule the Constitutional Assembly illegal? I believe so, and that caused him to preempt them with his November 22 decree, the main issue being the courts could not disband the Assembly or veto any of his actions. Why else would he risk a constitutional crisis before there was a constitution?
But Morsi made a big political mistake here. He did the one thing that would threaten all the other opposition parties enough to close ranks with the Mubarak old-timers into a united opposition. This unity, including the Copts, gave them the street power needed to begin a new revolution against the Muslim Brotherhood plans to dominate the new constitution by rushing it through.
While Morsi was doing the best he could to sell his motivation for the presidential power grab being only to protect the revolution, he looked out the window to see himself being targeted as that threat. He had, in a way, stepped into Mubarak’s shoes, which was not a good move.
The Muslim Brotherhood had come full circle, so to speak, from latecomers to the April 6th Movement, to be having the presidential place ringed with tanks and the Republican Guards and surrounded by sit-in demonstrators.
But one visual image stands out the most of the military building up a new concrete block wall of around the palace. A new revolution had come to Morsi’s front door.
The Army Finally Speaks Out
The Egyptian military had been purged of the old Mubarak cronies and replaced with younger blood. They were expected to remain on the sidelines. But they too sensed that something had gone astray. They found themselves back in the streets with the rocks and tear gas, fighting the Egyptian people again.
As the factional street-fighting days kept getting worse, they decided to put some cards on the table when Morsi still insisted on going ahead with the referendum vote this coming Saturday. They described his decision as ‘shocking’ and that it would worsen the current crisis. That is soldier speak for ‘we will not allow one side to railroad the other.’
Of course a follow-up statement was made that the army had no plans of retaking control of the country. I interpreted that to mean, ‘not taking control at this time.’
The military will not let the two sides tear the country apart, and they have basically said as much through their strong urging for more dialogue to avoid a ‘catastrophe.’ They used that key word because it meant forcing the military back in at this late stage - a backward slide for the whole country.
Pouring Fuel on the Fire
The Muslim Brotherhood has overplayed their hand. Morsi seems to be going broke now on the December 15th vote. If the opposition parties boycott the referendum - or worse, use street tactics to block it from taking place - there could be a direct confrontation with the army, which will probably be deployed to protect the polling stations. That also could be the catastrophe the army was referring to.
The state media has also been abused in this unfortunate process. The well-known state broadcaster Essam El Amir resigned recently due to the unprecedented interference by Morsi’s government.
He claimed it had been calling on an almost ‘hourly’ basis wanting to know what political guests were going to be on TV and how much time they were going to be given. Amir described it as much worse than the Mubarak days, and he could no longer take orders to suppress media access to the opposition parties. This man is a real democrat.
I suspect that any trust the Brotherhood might have had has taken a blow that could be irreversible. I think that is why Morsi may be gambling it all on winning the referendum, so he can declare the people have put their stamp of approval on the Islamic constitution.
But where he would be making a fatal error is that the main purpose of a constitution is to not let 51% take rights away from the 49%. And the way the constitution was drafted, Morsi’s decree, and his insisting on a quick vote are all evidence of what could be described as a Muslim Brotherhood constitutional coup.
I fear for what the result of that could be. I really do. What an irony it would be if the military is forced back into power again due to the Brotherhood’s refusing to let the opposition parties have real participation in a constitution that will govern not only their lives but those of their descendents.
I will close with what Essam El Amir said. “Looking back over history, Egyptians have always carried moderate Islamist views and have never confronted each other in battle. This is the red line we will not cross.”
I wonder what Hosni Mubarak is thinking while he is watching all this play out?