Egypt just wrapped up the second round of voting on a controversial Constitution drafted by a parliament dominated by different Islamist parties.
Although Egypt’s main opposition parties; namely the Constitution Party lead by Mr. Mohamed El Baradai and the Conference Party lead by Mr. Amr Moussa and Mr. Ayman Nour have called on President Mohamed Morsi to delay such vote until all political parties could participate in drafting such Constitution, the vote went ahead and took place in two rounds. The first one took place on December 15th and the second was wrapped up on December 22nd and which the Muslim Brotherhood (The Political force behind Egypt’s current president) declared to have passed by a 64% approval vote.
If these results are confirmed, Egypt will have approved a new Constitution, which unfortunately is not seen as one that represents the views and aspirations of all Egyptians. Some of the most contentious points of the power struggle which has been going on for the past month between the “for” and the “against” camp are the lack of protection for religious freedoms, women’s rights, and minority rights.
It is true that President Morsi’s decree of early November 2012, which gave him full powers over the Legislative as well as the Judicial branches, and which made it impossible to challenge or overturn any of his decisions by the country’s highest court, is what triggered popular protests throughout Egypt, ones that are of similar proportions to those that lead to the fall of Mubarak’s dictatorial regime. It is also true, that the protests which lead to the fall of Mubarak were not lead mainly by Mr. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, but rather conducted by Egyptians from all walks of life, with different religious beliefs, political affiliations, and most of all, great aspirations for freedom, liberty, justice, and true democracy. Such formidable force was successful in bringing down one of the world’s most brutal dictatorships because it was able to transcend all differences and divides that are used by the powerful to dominate the weak; religious divides, ethnic differences, social or economic class, regional or tribal rivalries.
Egypt’s great people, with their dynamic, educated, conscientious, and tech-savvy youth as the “Avant-garde” of what is undoubtedly the greatest revolution for this generation, were able to overcome what paralyzes so many oppressed peoples of the world in general, and the Arab world in particular; fear. As once described by Franklin D. Roosevelt as being the most frightening thing of all, fear is the only thing to be feared when challenges are great and stakes are high. When instilled in people’s hearts and minds, fear can be more destructive and devastating than any war, any force, any repression or depression. It eradicates the will of human beings to think, to question, to analyze, to work, to move, and to live. In short, fear destroys all aspirations to a better life.
Once the presidential election was over with and the Muslim Brotherhood saw one of its members elected President of the country, more challenges arose for the freedom-seeking people of Egypt. On the one hand, dealing with an inexperienced and yet effective Chief Executive (Mr. Morsi) which gained tremendous political points by getting the military out of politics to some extent (a thing that is almost unheard of in many Arab countries) and putting the government’s real power back into civilian hands, and successfully negotiating a truce between the Palestinians of Gaza and the Israelis last month. On the other hand fearing that Mr. Morsi would somehow replace Mubarak’s secular dictatorship with a religious one. While Mr. Morsi’s Presidential decree preventing any courts to challenge his decisions is definitely a “faux pas” early in his presidency, a move to which Egyptians responded by major marches in Cairo, Alexandria and other parts of the country, it would be a serious miscalculation by the opposition lead by Mr. Amr Moussa and Mr. Mohamed El Baradai to request Mr. Morsi resign or to insist on invalidating the results of the referendum.
The main problem that Egyptians face today when it comes to their new President and the country’s Islamist-dominated parliament is a true test to their very aspirations to democracy. When one wants democracy, one gets it by playing as well as abiding by the rules. In other words, after the fall of Mr. Mubarak, Egyptians wanted fair and clean elections. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, then lead by Field Marshal Tantawi organized parliamentary elections, then Presidential elections, which both were won by Islamists. Does that mean that those who are in power in Egypt today can simply dismantle the democratic process and declare themselves the sole and eternal leaders of Egypt? Does it mean that the opposition, as well meaning as it can be, can or should push young Egyptians to a full clash with the state Police and Military simply because it is not satisfied with the outcome of Elections that did not go its way? To both questions the answer is no.
Mr. Morsi and his followers within and without the current Egyptian administration (civilian supporters included), and all forces of opposition to the new Egyptian government have to play and abide by the exact same rules which can be resumed as follows:
1) No one is above the law, including the President of Egypt, the country’s clerics, the military leaders, or the heads of the opposition. 2) Egypt’s salvation resides in a President, a legislature, and a Judiciary that work on behalf of the people and for the people. 3) The President and Parliament should give full attention and priority to solving Egypt’s real problems; fighting high unemployment, fighting poverty through education and professional training which will open up opportunities for all Egyptians to quality employment, declaring war on spread out corruption reminiscent of the Mubarak era and which represents the greatest barrier to any society’s progress. 4) The leaders of the opposition bear the heavy responsibility of not fueling hate towards the state simply because it does not agree with its vision for Egypt, as long as the state respects the laws of the republic and does not intend to change the democratic gains of the revolution. In other words; keeping the term limits for public office, respecting all Egyptians’ right to free speech, upholding the right of a free press, freedom of religion, and the rights of women and minorities. 5) Finally, Mr. Morsi, his administration, the parties and Egyptians who support him have to understand that their country is divided almost at the middle (Mr. Morsi norrowly won the Presidency by a 51.7% to 48.3% to Ahmed Shafiq, his opponent in the election), that there is no clear mandate by the people to govern as he (Mr. Morsi) wishes and that compromise with the 48.3% opposition must be the way ahead. Mr. Morsi and his supporters have a limited time to work for Egypt and its people, and that when Egyptians speak through polls in the upcoming legislative elections, they have to be heard. In other words, when Egyptians who voted you in want you out through the polls, it will be time for you to cede the reigns of power to those chosen by the people.
So Egypt finds itself at crossroads today. It is Egyptians in government and outside of it that will decide through their decisions and actions the way ahead for their country. As once said by an Algerian politician right before Algeria sank into its brutal civil war of the 1990s (strangely for similar reasons and circumstances as the ones known by Egypt today), “If Algerians had to choose between the glory of Power and Algeria, I hope they would choose Algeria”. All Egyptians, for the sake of Egypt, should ask themselves the same question today and think twice before answering it.