On 12 August, President Mohamed Morsi issued a surprise constitutional declaration through which he ended the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ grip on power.
Three months later, on 22 November, Morsi issued a second unanticipated constitutional declaration, ordering the retrial of Mubarak regime leaders accused of killing revolutionary protesters and immunizing the Constituent Assembly and the Shura Council, as well as his own decisions, from judicial challenges. The constitutional declaration further empowers him to dismiss the prosecutor general and carry out any executive measures if he believes the country is in danger.
The first constitutional declaration was only met with minimal opposition, but the second was opposed by a broad spectrum of powers, from the revolutionary left all the way to feloul (Mubarak regime) figures such as Judges Club head Ahmed al-Zend and lawyer Mortada Mansour.
Indeed, the content of each of the two constitutional declarations may in part explain the difference in responses, but the timing and the developments of the ongoing political conflict are just as important in understanding why reactions have varied.
In the following sections, I will present some perspectives on the nature of Morsi's recent decisions and analyze their historical background.
Morsi easily dealt a blow to the seemingly potent SCAF. The ease with which the SCAF was dismissed was inexplicable, especially with the military institution appearing to receive the ousting of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and Chief of Staff Sami Anan with no resistance.
Clearly, fury against the SCAF was mounting inside the military institution over the year and a half that preceded the constitutional declaration issued on 12 August.
The military has had to face off angry crowds on several occasions, causing leaders outside the SCAF to sense danger. The institution’s direct involvement in politics and engagement with the public opens the door to the politicization of the army, and perhaps also to internal rifts. In addition, this engagement in politics raises the possibility of rebellion from junior officers who are opposed to engaging in confrontations of that type.
What's more, in its final days in power, the SCAF was transforming into a narrow interest group seeking to protect its members from accountability and calls for retribution — after they had been implicated in the killing of protesters — and to preserve their power and wealth.
In a matter of a few months, the SCAF turned from the guardian of the revolution into a self-centered gang scrambling to safeguard its own gains, with its last constitutional declaration, issued on 17 June 2012, desperately saying that the SCAF was continuing in power "with its current membership."
That transformation, to be sure, created a disparity between the interests of the military as an institution and those of the SCAF’s generals, giving way to the formation of a group of non-SCAF leaders who sought to get the military out of political mayhem, all while preserving its economic interests and privileged status — immunizing itself against political accountability.
Morsi's interests nicely dovetailed with the disaffected military leaders, and the 12 August constitutional declaration was a deal between the new president and them. This deal was well-received by the US, which saw in it the best route out of Egypt’s political impasse.
This deal was also welcomed by most sovereign state institutions — the police, General Intelligence Services and military intelligence — as it did not involve purging institutions of corruption or curtailing their powers. Rather, the deal was to exchange mutual benefits, preventing others from weakening Morsi while he secured their seats in power. This agreement removed top figures opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood and replaced them with others more willing to cooperate. Morsi accomplished this with the military, General Intelligence Services, military intelligence, Information Ministry, state-run newspapers, the presidential office, the Cabinet and governors nationwide.
The only institution that challenged Morsi's deal was the judiciary. The independent status that the judiciary enjoys in a capitalist state has allowed the Brotherhood's enemies to retain their positions.
Morsi has been in power for five months, but even a period that short had been long enough to reveal the nature of the Brotherhood and deepen an already existing crisis.
The Brotherhood is not a revolutionary party that incites the public to struggle to achieve its own interests, nor is it a radical or even traditional reform group.
Radical reform groups may hamper revolutionary movements from reaching their logical end — pulling up the roots of the regime — but they at least struggle to introduce important changes to ruling institutions, and use public mobilization for that purpose.
Traditional reform powers are more cautious than radical reformists and more ready to negotiate with the old regime to reach a compromise. But since traditional reformists' popularity is based on the support of progressive segments of the masses — such as organized workers — they often play temporary progressive roles to maintain their popular base.
The Brotherhood fits neither category of reformists. As odd as that sounds, the Brotherhood is a conservative reform power.
Its popular base is more conservative and reactionary than that of traditional reformists.
The Brotherhood is most popular among the more conservative sectors of the lower-middle class, rather than the working class or the young members of the more radical middle class and lower-middle class.
Yes, it is true that the core of the group's organizational leadership is composed of modern upper-middle class people (rich professionals, some of whom have become businessmen). Nevertheless, the group’s base is rooted in the more backward areas, where anger against modernization mingles with conservative tendencies seeking to introduce ethical change.
Morsi is the epitome of this mindset.
He established his power by reconciling with the old state, disregarding the need to purge institutions of corruption. In fact, he has given the military and police so much more freedom of action that they have become relatively independent, operating with little resistance from the president as long as they do not directly antagonize him.
Morsi has hardly taken any decisive action to achieve the demands of the revolution. He is all talk, no action on issues such as retribution for the killing of anti-government protesters, eliminating corruption, or amending wage structures and public policies.
The past five months have demonstrated that Morsi is not substantially changing anything. The military has failed badly in Sinai, the decision to dismiss the prosecutor general has caused a big dispute, labor strikes are increasing and the military and police are fighting in the streets.
In the meantime, opposition to Morsi and the Brotherhood has mounted, with little signs of stability emerging.
That was the context in which Morsi made his decisions. He may have been encouraged to issue the new constitutional declaration after his success in forging a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, but the divisions and conflicts inside Egypt have been the prime triggers for this recent bundle of decisions.
Morsi's Brotherhood mindset is incapable of envisioning genuine confrontations to achieve the demands of the revolution and win over the people. His mind tells him that the best way to address Egypt’s transitional crisis is to monopolize the political process.
I believe Morsi is convinced that writing the constitution, no matter what its content, and therefore regulating Egypt’s legal environment, is the only solution to the stalled transition. By this logic, stability is the only way to attract investment, and a ratified constitution is the road to stability.
So he decided to soothe the streets by ordering the retrial of Mubarak and other accused killers of anti-government protesters, and focusing on completing the constitution by immunizing the Constituent Assembly against dissolution and his own decisions against judicial challenges at this "critical stage."
These dictatorial decisions stem from a feeling of weakness and a desire to retain power, rather than confidence that his power is solidifying.
Morsi's decisions constitute a soft political coup, but also major political gambles, as conflicts deepen in the background. Is the military going to remain silent? Are the police going to support Morsi's decision in the long run?
These institutions do not entertain a moral loyalty to anyone, particularly to a president who comes from the Muslim Brotherhood. Hence, the answer to these questions depends on the outcomes of ongoing and likely future conflicts.
If the powers opposing Morsi manage to mobilize the people against him on a broad scale, and even if they only partially succeed in mobilizing and political conditions continue to deteriorate and divisions increase, the ruling class and the old Mubarak regime will lean toward launching a coup, regardless of what legal form it takes.
It is not in the interest of the revolutionary movement to bring Morsi down with a coup, as it will result in an even worse dictatorship whose chief goal will be to eliminate all opposition "to save the country from an imminent danger."
But nor is it in their interest to see Morsi crush his opposition and secure his grip on power. That would be like a weak man winning a bet to become dictator, similar to what happened with former President Anwar Sadat.
I am personally ruling out the possibility of the second scenario taking place, as I believe it is quite difficult for Morsi and the Brotherhood to decisively secure their grip on power. But that remains to be seen.
The real problem is with the structure of Morsi's opposition. Due to the absence of a major coherent revolutionary bloc, Morsi's opposition is a mishmash of powers that belong to the corrupt former Mubarak regime and other centrist-liberal-reformist-populist powers — which can be collectively termed as "civilian powers," regardless of the exact meaning of that term.
Regrettably, since those civilian powers are not revolutionary and have an indistinguishable centrist character, they tend to reconcile, and even ally, with former regime supporters in their battle against Morsi, believing he is their arch-rival.
To my mind, this tendency will have catastrophic repercussions for the future of the revolution. It will allow feloul to be reproduced as acceptable actors in the political realm, and the possibility of the Mubarak regime making a comeback in a worse form.
Comparisons with the situation during the 25 January uprising do not hold. Then, millions in the streets were revolting against the regime and an alliance existed between revolutionaries and conservative reformist powers that hesitantly opposed the regime. Today, though, we are faced with forming an alliance with the worst and most extreme right-wing powers, and are outside the context of a revolution.
The revolutionaries' mission is tough, but inevitable. They should engage in a battle against the non-revolutionary and confused Brotherhood's dictatorship without falling into the trap of allying with other enemies of the revolution.
A third revolutionary alternative that does not enlist the help of Mubarak regime remnants in the fight with the Brotherhood is the real hope.
This article first appeared on the website of the Egypt Independent. Tamer Wagih is Egypt Independent's opinion editor.
This piece was translated from Arabic by Dina Zafer.
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