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Mohammed Morsi

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Egypt: Sisi, Morsi and Democracy

Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, has now been in prison more than three times as long as he was in the presidential palace, but his death sentence was quashed last week. On Tuesday the country’s highest appeal court also overturned his life sentence on a separate charge – but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be free any time soon.

The appeal court not only cancelled Morsi’s death and life sentences, but also those of sixteen other senior members of his party, the Muslim Brotherhood. “The verdict was full of legal flaws,” said Morsi’s lawyer, Abdel Moneim Abdel Maksoud. The men will all stay in jail indefinitely, as the military regime can easily get convictions on other charges in the lower courts, but justice is not entirely dead in Egypt.

Democracy IS dead, however. Since General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s coup destroyed Morsi’s elected government in July 2013, at least 1,400 Egyptians have been murdered by the regime. (That includes the thousand people who were killed in the streets in August 2013 while non-violently protesting against the coup – a massacre at least as bloody as the Tienanmen Square slaughter in Beijing in 1989.)

The army was never going to accept the non-violent revolution that overthrew former general Hosni Mubarak’s 29-year-old regime in January of 2011: its officers benefit greatly from its control over at least a quarter of the Egyptian economy. But the military had the wit to bide their time, whereas the young revolutionaries were neither experienced nor united, and they quickly began making mistakes.

Their worst was to fail to unite behind a single candidate in defence of a secular democracy. Instead, the presidential election of July 2012 ended up in a run-off between Air Chief Marshal Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister, and Mohammed Morsi, the representative of the Muslim Brotherhood. Enough secular voters held their noses and backed Morsi to give him a narrow victory in the second round.

The Muslim Brotherhood was a moderate Islamic party that had been tolerated under the Mubarak regime. Its main supporters were conservative rural voters and the pious poor, and it felt obliged to reward them by inserting more Islamic elements into the new constitution. Besides, Islamists really believe that making the country more “Islamic” will solve its problems. That’s why they are Islamists.

It was far from wholesale Islamisation, but it was enough to panic the urban and mostly secular young people who had led the revolution. In a stupid attempt to force the new constitution through, Morsi granted himself total executive power and began ruling by decree in November 2012. After ten days he realised he had made a dreadful mistake and relinquished his special powers, but it was too late.

In an equally foolish reaction, the young revolutionaries concluded that Morsi was a dictator in the making and began agitating for an early election to get rid of him. They simply didn’t understand that the democratic solution was to wait the full four years and then vote Morsi out. By then, given the state of Egypt’s economy, he would be so unpopular that he would be certain to lose.

Some even thought that the army was their friend and would help them to get rid of Morsi. So the anti-Morsi demonstrations grew through the first half of 2013, and on the first anniversary of his election on 30 June millions came out in the streets to demand that he quit. The army moved at last, and in days Sisi was in power and Morsi was in jail.

In due course, many thousands of the young revolutionary generation were also in jail: the latest estimate is 60,000 political prisoners. The Sisi regime is far more brutal and repressive than any of its military predecessors, but its plans to welcome foreign investment, privatise the infrastructure and restrict the right to strike have lots of foreign support.

Last year the regime held a national coming-out party at the Sharm al-Shaikh resort: the Egyptian Economic Development Conference. It invited 1,700 investors, consultants and foreign government officials including the US secretary of state, the British foreign minister, and the head of the International Monetary Fund. They were pleased by what they heard..

Former British prime minister Tony Blair was also there. “Look,” he burbled, “I’m absolutely in favour of democracy, but I also think you’ve got to be realistic sometimes about the path of development, and that sometimes you will have a country with not what we would call 100 percent Western-style democracy, but it is going in a direction of development that is really important.”

Far away from the conference hall, however, tens of thousands of innocent people rotted in jail, and real terrorists affiliated with Islamic State and al-Qaeda ruled over northern Sinai and regularly set off bombs in Cairo.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraph 12. (“Former…important”)

Egypt and Turkey

3 July 2013

Egypt and Turkey: Democracy in Trouble

By Gwynne Dyer

Egypt and Turkey have the same basic political problem. Democracy can work despite huge ideological differences, but only if everybody is willing to be very tolerant of other people’s ideas and values.

Three weeks ago the streets of Turkish cities were full of protesters demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who won his third straight election in 2011. Why? Because, they say, he is shoving conservative Islamic values down their throats.

The Turkish protests have now died down, but this week the streets of Egyptian cities have been full of protesters demanding exactly the same thing for exactly the same reason. The Egyptian army has now intervened to remove the Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, and the very survival of the new Egyptian democracy is in doubt.

Neither Erdogan nor Morsi could have come to power in a country that wasn’t fully democratic. Turkey has been a partly democratic country for sixty years, but if a politician with a religious agenda won, the army would remove him. It even hanged one prime minister in 1960.

In Egypt, three generals had ruled the country in unbroken succession since the mid-1950s. Latterly they allowed “elections”, but their party always won, and the main religious party, the Muslim Brotherhood, was always banned.

The Turkish and Egyptian generals were mostly devout Muslims themselves, but they were willing to kill to keep religion out of politics. Islamic parties were a vehicle for traditional and anti-modern values, and the generals’ goal was to modernise their countries so they would be strong enough to stand up to the West.

There was some cynicism in their policy, too. The secular political parties in Turkey (and in Egypt too, until they finally withered away under 60 years of military dictatorship) were too fragmented and disunited to pose any real threat to the army’s power, whereas a single Islamic party with broad popular support might do just that. So religion must be firmly excluded from politics.

In both countries, the generals’ modernising agenda had considerable success. Turkey is now a powerful middle-income nation, and at least half of its 75 million people are secular and “modern” in their political values. So they wanted the military out of politics, and finally the army withdrew – only to see the new Justice and Development (AK) Party, a “moderate” Islamist party led by Erdogan, win the 2003 election.

The Turkish generals let the AK rule because it didn’t try to impose its own religious values on the whole population. It refrained because even in its best result, in 2010, the AK only won 50.3 percent of the vote – and some of that support came from secular voters who saw it as the best hope for permanently excluding the army from politics.

Egypt is a much poorer, less educated country than Turkey, but at least a third of the 85 million Egyptians would also qualify as “modern” people with secular values. They were the ones who made the revolution happen in 2010 – but in the new democracy’s first free presidential election last year the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi, won 51.7 percent of the vote.

The Muslim Brotherhood promptly started writing its conservative religious values into the new constitution. More recently, Erdogan’s AK Party in Turkey passed some laws that imposed its religious values too.

It wasn’t a wholesale assault on the secular society – in Turkey they just placed some restrictions on the sale of alcohol – but in both countries it greatly alarmed the secular part of the population. So it took only the slightest pretext – a demonstration over the destruction of a park in Istanbul, the first anniversary of Morsi’s election in Egypt – to bring huge crowds of protesters out on the street in every city.

At that point, both Islamist leaders stopped pretending that they governed in the name of the entire nation. “Let them go into mosques in their shoes, let them drink alcohol in our mosques, let them raise their hand to our headscarved girls,” said Erdogan of the Turkish protestors. “One prayer from our people is enough to frustrate their plans.” He blamed the protests on an international conspiracy by something called the “interest-rate lobby.”

In Egypt, Morsi vowed to “give my life” to defend the new constitution written by his Islamist colleagues last year, and blamed the unrest on a plot by remnants of the ousted Mubarak regime. The Egyptian army has now suspended the constitution, but it is a “soft coup” that will almost certainly leave Morsi alive. Perhaps even free.

The Islamists are to blame for this crisis in both countries, because their political programme does ultimately involve shoving their values down everybody else’s throats. But the secular parties are also to blame, because it is their inability to unite behind a single candidate and programme that has let the Islamists win power in both Turkey and Egypt.

It is hard for democracy to survive in a country where large parts of the population hold radically different ideas about the purposes of the state and the rights of its citizens. Urbanisation will ultimately resolve this conflict, for in one more generation most of the recent immigrants to the fast-growing cities will have adopted secular values. But in the meantime, Egypt will have a very rough ride. Maybe Turkey too.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 7, 13 and 14. (“There was…politics”; and “At that…him”)

 

 

Egypt: The Not So Bad Constitution

26 December 2012

Egypt: The Not So Bad Constitution

By Gwynne Dyer

Egyptian politics over the past nine months has not been an edifying sight, but the new constitution does not spell the end of democracy in Egypt. It scares the 36 percent of Egyptian voters who rejected it, but their fears are probably misplaced.

The revolution was made in the big cities, mostly by people who were secular in outlook. However, most Egyptian voters live in rural areas that are devout and deeply conservative, so three-quarters of the votes in the first free election went to Islamic parties.

The Freedom and Justice Party, the political vehicle of the Muslim Brotherhood, got almost half the votes but it did not really get a mandate to impose strict Islamic law on Egypt. Some of its votes came from people who wanted that, but some came from people who value the Brotherhood’s charitable work, or were just grateful for its role as the only real resistance during the decades of dictatorship.

The Brotherhood’s leadership understood that – but another quarter of the votes went to “Salafi” parties that have an extremist interpretation of Islam. The Salafis would obviously steal the votes of the Freedom and Justice Party’s more devout supporters in the next election unless there was some Islamic content in the new constitution.

The Brotherhood’s last political platform in 2007 called for a board of Muslim clerics to supervise the government. It also insisted that only Muslim men could become president. “The state which we seek can never be presided over by a non-Muslim,” said Mohammed Morsi, who drafted that platform and is now president of Egypt.

Maybe Morsi still privately thinks that, or maybe he has realised that these rules are unacceptable in a democracy where all citizens are equal. It doesn’t matter. The new constitution does not contain any such provisions, and the main reason is obviously the Brotherhood’s tacit bargain with the armed forces.

The deal, which guarantees the military’s privileges, was necessary to persuade the staunchly secular armed forces to accept an Islamic party in government, but it had a price: the new government could not be TOO Islamic. This posed a problem for Morsi, because Muslim Brotherhood activists wanted to use their political power to entrench “Islamic” rules in the new constitution.

So Morsi had to walk a fine line. He had to put enough Islamic language into the constitution to mollify his own supporters, but not so much that the military would break their alliance with him. He didn’t walk that line very well.

The whole constitutional process was a poisonous battle even before Morsi became president last June. In April the Supreme Judicial Council, whose members had all been appointed by the Mubarak dictatorship, dissolved the newly elected House of Representatives on a flimsy pretext, and also dismissed the constitution-writing assembly that it had chosen.

But the upper house of parliament is also dominated by Islamist parties, and it simply appointed another constituent assembly with the same make-up. After that it was open war.

By October most of the non-Islamists in the second constituent assembly had walked out, and the Supreme Judicial Council was about to dismiss that body too. Morsi’s clumsy response was to grant himself unlimited powers and forbid the judiciary to dismiss the assembly.

There was an outcry by the opposition, a fractious coalition of leftists, liberals and Christians, and the protestors were instantly back on the streets. But the constituent assembly promptly rendered the whole crisis unnecessary by passing the new draft constitution in a 29-hour marathon sitting, so Morsi cancelled his special powers – and on 22 December, Egyptians ratified the new constitution by a 63.8 percent majority.

Small crisis, not many hurt. The army got what it wanted: henceforward, the minister of defence must be a serving officer, and the military will effectively control its own budget. The parliament cannot even debate it.

The Brotherhood got less of what it wanted, but there are bits of Islamic language in the constitution to keep the activists happy. For example, Article 2 of the old constitution (1971) says: “The principles of Sharia are the main source of legislation.”

The new one still says that, but Article 219 adds: “The principles of Sharia include general evidence and foundations, rules and jurisprudence as well as sources accepted by doctrines of Sunni Islam and the majority of Muslim scholars.” And what practical difference does that make?

Article 30 states that “citizens are equal before the law and equal in rights and obligations without discrimination,” but as in the old constitution, there is no separate and explicit guarantee of women’s rights. Putting that in would have required a major battle with the misogynist rank and file of the Brotherhood, and the old formula would be quite adequate if the courts enforced it.

Nervous secular Egyptians fear that these bits and pieces of Islamic rhetoric are the seeds of a constitutional revolution that will turn the country into an Islamist dictatorship, but there is little evidence for that.

As for the frantic haste with which the constitution was passed – after two years of revolutionary upheaval, the Egyptian economy desperately needs the political stability that a new constitution and fresh elections (due in February) will provide. It’s not a plot. It’s just the politics of necessity.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4, 15 and 16. (“The Brotherhood’s…constitution”; and “Article…that”)