Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Egyptians to Vote on Constitution December 15 Amid Growing Divisions

Egyptians to Vote on Constitution December 15 Amid Growing Divisions

Muslim Brotherhood, opposition hold mass demonstrations

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

President Morsi’s decree on November 22 has brought hundreds of thousands of Egyptians into the streets that both support and oppose a draft constitution which will guide the North African state’s political future. The Islamist-dominated government has announced a December 15 date for a national referendum to approve or reject the controversial document.

Eighteen left and liberal parties and coalitions, known as the Revolution Salvation Front, held demonstrations on the presidential palace for December 4 to express their opposition to the current process of constitutional development as well as its content. These groups include the Constitution Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Free Egyptians Party, the National Front for Justice and Democracy, the April 6 Youth Movement, the Democratic Front and the Kefaya Movement. (Popular Current Facebook Page)

Over 100,000 people demonstrated on December 4 in Cairo and other areas of the country including Alexandria. There were clashes with police after the demonstrators broke through a police line blocking them from the presidential palace.

Morsi reportedly left the palace amid the demonstrations. Many of the protesters called for his resignation from office.

In a joint statement issued on December 2, the opposition forces claimed that “The constitution project that Morsi wants to put before a referendum is in fact a project for tying down the political, civil, social and economic freedoms of Egyptians. This is a final warning to Mohamed Morsi, who was democratically elected president: his policies, which favor his party and group, will cause the dissolution of his legitimacy.” (Ahram Online, December 2)

In preparation for the demonstrations on December 4 and beyond, the security forces increased their presence around the presidential palace in the Heliopolis district in Cairo. At least fifteen armored vehicles were identified in the area the day before the mass demonstrations were to be held. (Ahram Online, December 3)

Morsi’s decree has prompted resignations from the Constituent Assembly by secular parties’ representatives. There have been defections from the National Council of Human Rights also with the withdrawal by Wael Khalil and Ahmed Seif El-Islam.

In a statement issued on December 3, Khalil and El-Islam said that “We are worried about recent developments ever since President Morsi’s disastrous constitutional decree. He stripped the judiciary of its independence when it comes to the decisions of the president which the constitutional decree now protects.” (Ahram Online, December 3)

The two human rights activists said that their resignation from the Council was sealed when “we saw an unjustified rush to finalize the document and present it to the president on December 2. We now have fears that the Muslim Brotherhood will violate controversial rights like the right to freedom of expression, freedom of faith, freedom of thought as well as the rights of women and minorities.”

The Role of the Judiciary

There have been conflicting reports over whether the judicial institutions will oversee the upcoming referendum which expatriate Egyptians will be able to vote for beginning on December 8 with the domestic poll to be held on the 15th. After the failure of talks between the Supreme Judicial Council and the president to reach an understanding over the character of the draft constitution, supporters of Morsi held a demonstration outside the highest court on December 2.

Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters shouted “We will not leave” while members of the Judicial Council were reportedly denied admittance to the building. The judges were slated to render a decision on the constitutionality of the December 15 referendum.

Initial reports indicated the judges would suspend work until the demonstrations were halted and that they have rejected “being subject to moral and physical pressure.” (Washington Post, December 3) The 19 members of the council who were appointed during the political rule of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, described the atmosphere created by the government and its supporters as an “environment charged with hatred and malice and the need for revenge” and this had led to what they described as an “appalling and shameful scene” outside the court on December 2.

Nonetheless, further reports on December 3 said that the Supreme Judicial Council would monitor the December 15 referendum. A Supreme Committee for supervising the elections was formed despite earlier reports.

According to Ahram Online, “Judge Samir Abou El-Maati, head of Cairo’s Appeals Court, will be in charge of the council….While many judges remain on strike, announcing that they would not oversee the referendum …the Supreme Judiciary Council has agreed to delegate judges and members of the prosecution to assume that responsibility.” (December 3)

Judge Ahmed El-Zend of the reform movement had been identified as saying that his colleagues would abstain from supervising the December 15 vote. However, Judge Mohamed Awad, who leads the Alexandria Appeals Court, said on December 2 that 90 percent of the judges would participate in monitoring the vote on the draft constitution. (Masr 25 TV)

Awad in an interview over the Muslim Brotherhood television channel said that Al-Zend’s call for a boycott was “unacceptable and beyond his authority. El-Zend must be aware that he is interfering in executive matters, and that it is an offense to the judiciary.”

President Morsi also received support from the Salafist Nour Party whose secretary-general and a member of the Constituent Assembly, Yasser El-Borhamy and Galal Morah, said the December 15 referendum was the “right move for achieving stability in Egypt. Morah explained that nearly two years of instability had to be ended and the upcoming vote would move the country towards addressing its economic problems. (Ahram Online, December 2)

The Salafist Nour Party won the second largest bloc of votes after the Muslim Brotherhood aligned Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in the now dysfunctional parliament. The Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood have organized large demonstrations in support of the Morsi government and the upcoming vote on the draft constitution.

Economic and Political Implications for the Egyptian Crisis

Egypt has seen a precipitous decline in foreign exchange earnings over the last two years due to anti-government unrest and the impact of the overall world economic crisis. Tourism which accounts for 7 percent of the gross domestic product, a mainstay of the economy, has declined by at least 30 percent.

Revenues garnered from the supply of natural gas to Israel have declined due to the sabotage of the pipelines in the Sinai. Unemployment among the youth is estimated to be in excess of 50 percent. (U.S. News & World Report, October 5)

Mounting foreign debt has resulted in President Morsi’s attempts to borrow money from the European Union, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Gulf states that are closely aligned with the U.S. These negotiations and commitments will inevitably shape the domestic and foreign policy orientation of the current government.

The outcome of the December 15 referendum will speak volumes in regard to the future of the political landscape of the country. Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists have a large political base inside the country’s electorate.

Various left and liberal parties have called for the cancellation of the draft constitutional vote and the re-opening of negotiations surrounding the nature and character of the political transformation process. Opposition forces have been able to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people in various cities and regions of the country of 80 million people.

Whether the opposition parties and coalitions decide to boycott or participate in the December 15 referendum, will determine the character of their struggle over the next two weeks. Nevertheless, the vote and its outcome will not resolve the burgeoning economic crisis which cannot be resolved if Egypt remains within the realm of U.S. and Israeli influence.

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