Editorial: Battle for the constitution
BY RANIA AL MALKY
Cairo: Today is a very happy day in the history of Egypt. Those who elected Morsi are happy because he won, and those who elected Shafik are happy because he won; and those who boycotted are happy because Tantawi tricked them both. Those who hate Mubarak are happy because he’s dead and those who love him are happy because he’s still alive. God bless Egyptian hashish.
So went the joke, which in a few words summed up the level of chaos, polarization and disinformation suffocating Egyptians today, less than 24 hours before the Presidential Election Committee (PEC) names the country’s next president.
Entrapped by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ fait accompli addendum to the interim constitution which has rendered any so-called handover of power entirely vacuous, political powers loyal to the principles that triggered the January uprising, are scrambling to form a united front.
Having done away with parliament following a Supreme Court ruling that deemed the electoral law unconstitutional, SCAF completed its grand plan with its eleventh hour release of a wholly illegitimate decree giving it control over the legislature and authority over the national budget, practically stripping the in-coming president of any real power.
Led by the strongest Islamist party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice (FJP), whose chairman Mohamed Morsi may well become the next president, a motely crew of Islamist and non-Islamist public figures gathered yesterday in a rare show of solidarity against what was clearly SCAF’s soft coup against democracy in the form of the constitutional addendum.
Non-Islamist youth icon Wael Ghoneim, who took part in the talks, summed it best at the press conference that followed: “I have serious reservations about the Brotherhood’s strategy throughout the interim period… and even hold them responsible for many of the setbacks… but this is no time to dwell on our political differences when what is at stake is the democratic process itself… we will not be forced to choose between security and freedom. Security is our basic right.”
Amid the endless deluge of rumors and doomsday scenarios perpetrated by a slew of state-owned and private media, with a little help from the leaks and rumors department of Homeland Security and their friends at the general intelligence, Egyptians have been at their wits end, stocking up on food and filling up their cars getting ready to enter conflict mode.
The enemy? No doubt the Muslim Brotherhood, who will refuse to accept the results of a democratic election that has brought an icon of the ousted regime to the presidential palace and so will wreak havoc in their deadly confrontation with the military.
Such a naïve, uninformed, reading of Egypt’s political map is all part of a plan that can only be accomplished in a constructed atmosphere of absolute fear. There is method in the seemingly erratic maneuvers of the power hungry generals, but what is inexplicable is how the public is taken in by this level of nonsense.
From day one since the uprising, the Brotherhood has not been involved in a single violent confrontation with security, whether police or military, to the extent that revolutionary forces have deplored the MB for what they deemed cold-blooded, self-serving pragmatism. Even at times when the group took to the streets in protest, as in the first instance of serious confrontation with SCAF over the controversial supra-constitutional principles document which aimed to give SCAF custodianship over political life by giving it the authority to “protect the civil nature of the state”, the group members would flood to Tahrir from all over the country, then go home after sundown.
But this strategy is nothing new. They’ve been following it consistently since 1984 when they joined parliament for the first time through an alliance with Al- Wafd. And since the uprising, they have behaved in character — sometimes to the bitter end — to avoid confrontation and to ensure the brevity of the transitional period. While their motives often seemed self-serving and probably were, there was never any doubt which side of history they were on, whether before or after the uprising.
Thus any implication that the Brothers were never part of the uprising or that they merely exploited it to achieve their own greater dream of a theocratic state; that they are part of the SCAF-affiliated counter revolution or that they are preparing for armed conflict if Shafik is named president, isn’t only false on premise, but is factually and analytically impossible.
If Shafik wins, the MB will wage an all-out legal war against the PEC and will possibly spearhead protests against a man who was rejected by masses of Egyptians when he was merely a prime minister, let alone president. They will never use violence on principle because had this been an option, they would have used it long ago, throughout 30 years of human rights abuses, brutal security crackdowns, arbitrary arrests and illegal imprisonments on trumped up charges.
SCAF’s endgame is beyond a doubt to seek control over the constituent assembly. The MB know it, and they too have been eyeing the assembly from day one. This is the crux of the conflict between the two and this, not the presidency is the real bone of contention. Since the president, whoever he is, will be powerless and there is already talk that both the PA and the presidential election may be repeated within six months (according to the proposal of the SCAF-appointed Advisory Council) it is only logical that SCAF would want to shield itself from accountability and financial oversight and ensure a safe exit for its existing members through the constitution.
Why else would SCAF plunge the country back into another transition except to buy time, fuel divisions between political powers and ensure that a divided society on a larger scale would back it as a symbol of stability and the power of the state. One look at the Nasr City pro-SCAF protests yesterday is enough to show how things have changed from the time one could barely count a couple of thousand in Abassiya supporting the generals, to perhaps tens of thousands today.
SCAF’s mission against what could have been a revolution in Egypt has been accomplished for now. But the question is, if Morsi becomes president, will the Brotherhood be able to fight the good fight for the constitution?
Rania Al Malky is the Chief Editor of The Egypt Monocle.