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Policy Analysis 09 January, 2013

The Egyptian Crisis: The Strenuous Path to Democracy

The Unit for Policy Studies

The Unit for Policy Studies is the Center’s department dedicated to the study of the region’s most pressing current affairs. An integral and vital part of the ACRPS’ activities, it offers academically rigorous analysis on issues that are relevant and useful to the public, academics and policy-makers of the Arab region and beyond. The Unit for Policy Studies draws on the collaborative efforts of a number of scholars based within and outside the ACRPS. It produces three of the Center’s publication series: Situation Assessment, Policy Analysis, and Case Analysis reports. 


Sample On November 22, 2012, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi issued a presidential decree, also known as a constitutional proclamation, which included six articles.[1] Among them are: the dismissal of the General Prosecutor; reopening the investigations and trials regarding the murder and attempted murder of Egyptian demonstrators during the 2011 revolution, implicating all who held political or executive positions in the former regime; preventing the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly and the Consultative Council; and shielding the President's decrees from judicial oversight, making them final and uncontestable by any judicial authority.

This constitutional proclamation stirred a near-uprising, with the bulk of the opposition currents holding demonstrations on November 23 and November 27 in a number of locations across Egypt. These forces demanded the rescinding of the presidential decree, accusing the President of exercising dictatorship and claiming that he had turned into "a new Pharaoh". The opposition protests were met with large demonstrations in support of President Morsi outside Cairo University on December 1. As a result, the country was plunged into a severe political crisis that escalated almost to breaking point, with extreme polarization occurring between the Islamists on the one hand, and the secularists, civil society, liberals, and leftists on the other.

Confronted with the radical positions of some opposition factions who rejected the calls for dialogue, President Morsi decided to underplay the effects of the presidential decree and instead urged the Constituent Assembly to hasten the drafting of the constitution, since the decree would be automatically annulled with the ratification of the new constitution through a popular referendum. In fact, as soon as the Constituent Assembly finished preparing the proposed constitution, President Morsi put the constitution up for a popular referendum within two weeks, as prescribed in an earlier constitutional proclamation, setting the referendum date for December 15.

In response, the opposition stepped up its protests, moving its demonstrations to the Ittihadiya (Federation) Palace on December 4. The confrontation rapidly turned into street clashes with the use of stones, knives, and firearms following the intervention of Islamist supporters who challenged the opposition protest, leading to clashes that left seven dead and hundreds injured. On December 5 in a televised speech, the President called on opposition parties to engage in dialogue, expressing his willingness to amend the controversial constitutional proclamation, especially its sixth article: "If a threat arose that endangers the January 25 revolution, the life of the nation, national unity, the safety of the homeland, or the functioning of the state institutions, the President of the Republic has the prerogative to take the appropriate steps and measures to face this threat in a manner compliant with the law". While this article may be quite broad and devoid of real legal implications, the lack of trust among different political factions provoked suspicions as to the intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood behind the introduction of such measures.

President Morsi's reaction to the protests shows that the presidency was shocked by their scale and geographic spread. Similarly, Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood and other factions, were also taken aback by the numbers of the protesters who contested the constitutional proclamation. The greatest surprise of all, however, was the seemingly coordinated stance taken by the private media outlets against President Morsi and his supporters, often shifting from a role of reporting and analyzing news, to one of mobilizing protesters.

As he made clear in his December 6 address in which he called for dialogue with the opposition, President Morsi realized that he and the country were in a deep bind. He also realized that the opposition had been successful, with the help of private media outlets, unions, and a broad spectrum of civil society and activist organizations, in isolating him within the Islamist camp, to the point where the majority of his non-Islamist advisers resigned from their positions. Eventually, President Morsi annulled the controversial constitutional proclamation and issued a new one following a long dialogue session held on December 8, with the participation of dozens of constitutional jurists, prominent public figures, and representatives from opposition parties. The new decree maintained, however, the dismissal of the General Prosecutor and the appointment of a replacement, and it also reaffirmed the date of the constitutional referendum, adding that a new Constituent Assembly would be elected if the population voted against the proposed constitution. The decree also called on the opposition to offer suggestions regarding the controversial articles in the constitution, so that these issues could be included in a "binding document," to be discussed and voted on in the parliament to be elected after the ratification of the constitution.

 


[1] "English text of Morsi's Constitutional Declaration", Ahram Online, November 22, 2012, http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/58947.aspx

 

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* This article was translated by the ACRPS Translation and English Editing Department. The original Arabic version can be found here.