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Egypt’s Morsi: Dictator or Revolutionist?

Presidential Decree for Near-Absolute Power
By Abdelrahman Rashdan
Political Science Researcher
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“Do you know what the origin of the problem is? It is that we do not know when does the revolution end and when does the state begin.” (Reuters)
Egypt’s Morsi: Dictator or Revolutionist?

“You cannot discuss politics while customers are here!” shouted the manager of a small Cairene jewelry shop at his co-workers on Saturday afternoon as soon as I pushed the door open. I realized that my entrance had forcibly interrupted a heated debate among the five workers in the shop about Morsi’s recent decree. One of them, however, was unable to hold himself from engaging me in their discussion; with his attention being grabbed by the appearance of the dismissed public prosecutor on the TV screen hanging above the door, he asked me “Who appointed Abdel-Maguid Mahmoud? Was it Mubarak??”

Soon, the manager got locked with me in a head-to-head debate about the troubling incident, while using his mobile internet to show me a tweet by a judge related to the issue. I was lucky enough to be able to find my way out of the shop after a while, otherwise the debate would have dragged on for the whole night. This is the scene of Egypt, where many Egyptians have turned into political creatures, discussing deep details about heated events in a country that witnessed a very unique and amazing revolution more than a year ago.

With his controversial decree issued on Thursday, President Morsi has politically metamorphosed in the eyes of many Egyptians. Some now view him as a revolutionary hero who picked up his sword to defend the glorious revolution against the old regime and its remnants who employed different means and schemes to crush the revolution; while others view him as a fascist dictator rising up from behind the image of what they once saw as a weak president with shaken hands. The brief jewelry-shop debate actually illustrates a big nation-wide one with some people limiting their input to their own two cents, some heavily debating, demonstrating, while others have turned to violence and attacking opponents.

According to several media reports, some offices for the ruling Freedom and Justice Party (of the Muslim Brotherhood) have been burnt, destroyed, or attacked and the number of injuries in the downtown clashes between the police and demonstrators have scaled above 100 with some in critical conditions. This is also in addition to the reports that the country is about to witness major Tuesday protests from both camps, supporters and opponents of Morsi’s decree.

In the same way that it is hard to group up all supports as being MB members, it is hard to declare all opponents as champions of the ousted Mubarak regime; each side has its arguments and fears.

Morsi’s decree carried the following points:
  1.  Retrial of officials linked to killing of protesters.
  2.  All presidential decrees and decisions since President Morsi was inaugurated until electing a new parliament after the constitution is concluded are irrefutable and irreversible even by any court.
  3.  The public prosecutor is appointed for a four-year term, with the current one being replaced.
  4.  The timeline for drafting the new constitution is extended for two more months.
  5.  The constitution-drafting committee and the Shura council cannot be dissolved by any judicial order.
  6.  President can take all necessary measure against any danger that would threaten the Jan 25 Revolution, the welfare and unity of Egypt, or the ability of the government institutions to perform its duties, in a manner regulated by the law.

Opinions have varied into three different camps, one that supports the six points, another that rejects them, and a third that accepts with some reservations.

Opponents: Dictator Morsi

“I refuse to continue in the shadow of republican decisions that obstruct the democratic transition.” — Presidential Assistant Samir Morkos.

 

 

The first camp is spearheaded by a number of judges and opposition leaders who believe that Morsi’s decree is humiliating the judicial branch of the government and concentrating all three powers in the hands of the president, the head of the executive branch.

The Supreme Judicial Council, Egypt's highest judicial authority, described it as an "unprecedented attack" on the independence of the judiciary, as reported by Reuters. Former presidential candidates Amr Mousa and Hamdin Sabbahi, along with Mohamed ElBaradei and others posed on Friday in Tahrir Square shoulder-to-shoulder in a sign of unity against Morsi's presidential decree.

This chance provided by Morsi represents a golden opportunity for opposition leaders to gain popularity in the street after events that followed the presidential elections showed the fading popular support for the leftist and liberal groups.

Arguments from this camp warn that Morsi’s acquisition of all powers is in fact creating a dictator that would have no one to check over his actions. With a deep mistrust carried by the opposition against the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi is viewed as a president that would wash away all his opposition for the benefit of his group.

A statement issued by the liberal Dustour Party on its Facebook page on Friday stated, "We are facing a historic moment in which we either complete our revolution or we abandon it to become prey for a group that has put its narrow party interests above the national interest."

In addition, one of the assistants to Morsi, Samir Morkos, a Christian, said after expressing his need to resign from his post, “I refuse to continue in the shadow of republican decisions that obstruct the democratic transition.”

Supporters of this camp have refused to abandon Tahrir square, with a number camping through the night, until Morsi cancels the decree.

Supporters: Revolution Means Revolutionary Decisions

The revolution cannot be protected by slow moves that walk within the boundaries of the system placed by the old regime.

On the other hand stand the Freedom and Justice Party, al-Noor Party, and other groups including a group of independent judges called “Judges for Egypt.” Arguments on this camp include some solid points. They argue that issuing a decree is a presidential right in the absence of a parliament, a right that the SCAF used with no disagreement shown by the current vocal opponents of Morsi’s decree. Nevertheless, Morsi is an elected representative of Egyptians while the SCAF was not, which gives him even more legitimacy in his actions.

The revolution cannot be protected by slow moves that walk within the boundaries of the system placed by the old regime, this camp argues; thus, bypassing the judiciary system that carry influential judicial figures affiliated with the old regime is a must. In addition, ignoring the trials of the old regime remnants and the murderers of the  Jan 25 Revolution’s protestors at the mercy of the current judicial elements, with a public prosecutor appointed by Mubarak, has led to the continuation of the "series of acquittals." Hence, changing the public prosecutor — which was one of the main demands in the January 25th Revolution— is a must and repeating the trials is needed.

As for the constitution, this camp argues that it would be fair to allow the committee to finish up its work and then grant Egyptians the freedom to accept or reject the draft through a public referendum. Also, following such referendum, a parliament should be elected which will make the president directly lose his superior powers in the presence of a functioning legislative branch, which should be around five month from now.

Third Camp: Revolutionary Decisions, Limits on Powers

“Only presidential decisions that have to do with purging government institutions should be immune.” — Political activist Hossam al-Gewely

 

 

Standing in the third camp those who say we support President Morsi in his decree but we demand more clarifications and limitation on powers. The main concern of this group is the unlimited powers that the president grants himself.

“Only presidential decisions that have to do with purging government institutions should be immune,” political activist Hossam al-Gewely contended, “so that [Morsi] would not be using his powers against his political opposition.”

Al-Gewely also thinks that Morsi did not choose the right time for his decree. “It is too late, the set of exceptional decisions should have been taken in day one, or at least along with his decision to sideline the old SCAF leaders and cancel their constitutional declaration.” He thinks that Morsi did not work well on creating a supportive public opinion for his decisions.

When Does the State Begin?

Based on polls in a number of Egyptian newspapers and websites of different political affiliations, it seems that more Egyptians are supporting Morsi’s decree. 

Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr website’s poll shows that 88 percent of about 38,000 voters approve Morsi’s recent decree, 71 percent of about 10,000 voters on al-Shorouk newspaper’s website, and 76 percent of about 23,000 voters on al-Masry al-Youm newspaper’s website.

The political scientist Dr. Moataz Abdel-Fattah summed up all the arguments in one sentence that carries a deep meaning. He said, “Do you know what the origin of the problem is? It is that we do not know when does the revolution end and when does the state begin.”

Related Links:
Morsi’s Decisions Stir Egypt Rival Protests
Challenges Ahead of Egypt’s President Morsi
Abdelrahman Rashdan is a political science researcher and commentator specialized in national security and the Middle East.

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