In a recent article author Ahmad Shokr persuasively argued that the noisy opponents of the Morsi dictatorship are right to contest his elected government, his dictatorship and the constitution he and his allies wish to impose on Egypt. Shokr develops his critique by rejecting three common claims made by defenders of and reporters on the Morsi coup d’état. They are:
- “The rival camps in Egypt embody a divide between Islamism and secularism.”
- “Islamists are authentic representatives of the majority of Egyptians.”
- “Mursi has made great strides toward civilian democracy and his downfall would mean a return to military rule.”
The first two claims are internally related. Shokr considers false the claim that most of Morsi’s opponents are secularists bent on thwarting the creation of an Egyptian state which legally expresses Islamic Law (or shari‘a). Morsi’s opponents are, according to Shokr, opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood, not political Islam as such. The differences between the sides are political, not religious. (Parenthetically, it cannot be stated as a matter of settled fact that political Islam is a kind of anti-democracy or that Islamists necessarily oppose democracy and liberalism. This belief is rapidly becoming a self-serving canard for Islam-haters, and should be rejected as a reality obscuring prejudgment). In other words, the conflict roiling Egypt is not confessional in nature; Morsi’s opponents are, in fact, Muslims.
It follows from the above that the Muslim Brotherhood is not the authentic representative of the majority of Egyptians. Its politics does not exhaust the possible forms political Islam could have in Egypt. It has never won an election with a supermajority.
That said, the origin of the current crisis ought to be obvious:
By granting himself sweeping powers and rushing to call for a December 15 referendum on the new constitution, Mursi has given Egyptians a stark choice between being ruled by an unrepresentative constitution or by a dictator. Many have refused this kind of political blackmail. Leading opposition figures, many of who were dissidents under Mubarak, have called on Mursi to revoke the decree and open the constitution drafting process to broader input. Egyptian human rights groups have almost unanimously echoed these demands. Tens of thousands who joined the protests that brought down Mubarak are back on the streets. Their fight is not for an ill-defined secularism so much as it is for political inclusion and democracy.
As Shokr points out later on, Egypt is diversely composed, and many components therein have refused to accept the dilemma Morsi wants to impose on them: Dictatorship or constitutional imposition. Egypt’s constitution ought to reflect the existence of this diversity if it wishes to avoid generating illegitimate government and another revolutionary spring.
Finally, it cannot be said that Morsi’s actions were meant to secure Egyptian democracy against a military apparatus wishing to directly rule the country. Nor can it be said that the Morsi government gained an electoral mandate to impose its will on the country. What can be said, according to Shokr’s analysis, is that the Muslim Brotherhood has already collaborated with the military to secure the military’s prerogatives under the constitution and to protect the military by providing a political buffer zone between the military and Egyptian civil society. To put the matter in different terms, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Morsi government have collaborated with institutions which pose intrinsic threats to Egyptian democracy and the rule of law.
The stakes are high, and can be encapsulated in this predicament: Will Egypt complete the transition from Mubarak’s authoritarian regime to a consolidated democracy or will it eventually — soon — produce another authoritarian regime, this one dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, its allies and the military?
As of this moment, Egypt’s military has already suggested that “disastrous consequences” (read: martial law) may result if the conflict continues. To be sure, this tacit threat benefits Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
- Recommended: Why the Anti-Mursi Protesters are Right (atung.net)
- Egypt’s Morsi rescinds decree (independent.co.uk)
- Egyptian military warns Morsi of “disastrous” consequences (salon.com)
- Egypt’s Morsi reverses most of decree that expanded his powers (latimes.com)
- Draft Egyptian constitution turns to Sharia law – Newsday (newsday.com)
- Morsi reels in his expanded power (sacbee.com)
- Egypt opposition: Referendum on constitution will deepen political crisis (globalnewsnet.wordpress.com)
- Egyptian opposition: ‘There is a better democracy’ (cnn.com)
- Egypt’s military returns to the political fray (cnsnews.com)
Photo by Stefan Rousseau licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.