Egypt: “Which Article of the Constitution Are You Objecting?”

Recent events in Egypt have demonstrated the deepening rift between the ruling Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and an increasing proportion of the population. President Mohamed Morsi first issued a decree making him the almighty ruler of the country which granted him the kind name of Morsilini (a portemanteau of “Morsi” and “Musolini”). The decree also shielded the Constitutional Assembly, the 85-member entity with Islamist majority writing the Constitution, from possible dissolution by a court order.

After a few resignations from the Constitutional Assembly, the ruling Brotherhood appointed replacements. A Constitution voting marathon followed, resulting in all of the 243 articles of the constitution being voted nearly unanimously in one night. President Morsi next imposed the Constitution to be voted through a referendum on December 15, 2012, which only amplified the outcry. Opposition groups have been asking for a delay, a demand the MB and the President kindly turned a deaf ear to.

Since then, calls for boycott or — more importantly, — for a ‘NO’ vote have been gaining force. A great number of documents have flourished, outlining the “32 reasons to vote ‘NO’ to the Constitution draft” [ar], a 2-page flyer [ar] and a collaborative Google Doc [ar] explaining why the current Constitution is dangerous and damaging have been widely circulated through social media.

Even more worryingly, Egypt's Supreme Electoral Commission asked for the annulment of a 1956 law allowing people to vote on public referendums regardless of their home constituency. In another decree — definitely, one of Morsi's fortes, — the President has agreed upon the Electoral Commission's demand which bans people from voting outside their electoral district, a move denounced as a way to restrict people from voting. Not respecting this new rule will be punished by a fine of LE500 (~ USD80 ). Egyptian video producer and blogger Mohamed Abdelfattah ironically joked:

@mfatta7: Before agreeing on a constitution, Egypt's political forces should have a binding article calling everything off on weekends.

Fostering the current political uncertainty was defined by some as ‘the point of no return’, and in a disturbing follow-up of the violent clashes having unfolded last week, the army was also granted an exceptional authority to arrest civilians during the referendum.

Meanwhile, a great number of pro-MB Twitter accounts have blossomed, all surveying the Twittersphere for critics [ar], asking them the same question: “So, which article of the Constitution are you objecting?”, then trying to justify the draft denounced as contrary to human rights:

@ibrahimbassion1: الدستور الفرنسي الحالي الذى يعد من افضل دساتير العالم،نتيجة التصويت عليه 63%،المواد المعترض عليها تفوق بكثير المختلف عليها في الدستور المصري

The current French constitution which is considered one of the best constitutions in the world was voted for by 63% despite having far more articles that were disputed.

Egyptian blogger Moftasa shows how much room for discussion is left featuring an image from one of the numerous footages from last week's violence:

"So which article do you oppose?"

“So which article do you oppose?”

While people discuss the participation to the referendum, and do their best to amplify the ‘NO’ vote voice, Wael Abbas from the independent blog Misr Digital published a leak [ar, en] from an upcoming interview of Egypt's Prime Minister Hisham Qandil. On the widely-decried Sharia'a law clause of the Constitution, Qandil is supposed to answer:

The new constitution will incorporate a longstanding section that incorporates some of the “principles” of Sharia law. At the same time it will make Copts and Jews abide by their own religious laws regarding their personal matters, as well as it will be broad enough to satisfy the secular concerns.

The Prime Minister is also seemingly trying to reassure the international community on the fears that Egypt is slowly turning into Iran:

Egyptians have special nature, they are moderately religious, welcoming and accepting other cultures, religions, nationalities. The fact that the President and the majority of the people’s assembly are from the freedom and justice party – the political arm of the Muslim brotherhood — doesn’t necessitates that Egypt will be a theocratic state, on the contrary Egypt is a civil state and is experiencing a democratic transition, which aims at achieving development in various fields.

Qandil also supposedly dismisses the “illogical” stance of the opposition:

Actually, we welcome negotiations with other political and opposition groups however they wanted it to be “conditional negotiations” based on rolling back the constitutional declaration as well dissolving the constituent assembly before starting negotiations. This is illogical.

Blogging for the Foreign Policy hosted ‘Transitions’, Egyptian blogger Mohamed ElDahshan timely concludes:

Painting society as a pro-Islam vs. anti-Islam binary choice isn't a political dispute — it's a civil one. Because there isn't a region, a street, a family where people don't disagree about politics; if this kitchen table conversation is transformed into one about faith, then we're lost. And the damage will reach all the way to the deepest threads of the society that we love to compare — mostly thanks to a Christian minority that throws in some diversity — to a complex, tightly woven tapestry.

This is a fabric that the Brotherhood is now working overtime to unravel. Is this deliberate or is it a terrible miscalculation? The latest government fiasco (decreeing new taxes and then rescinding them hours later) suggests that there is remarkably little thought going into critical decisions.

Morsi is probably not the only decision-maker. The hydra's two other heads have a mind of their own — and they are not shy about expressing it, either. (Both Khairat Al Shater and Mohamed Badie held press conferences justifying the government's response to the clashes, even though they have no official government positions whatsoever.) All this makes me feel that pessimism is justified.

The ball is now in the president's six hands. And this does not bode well.

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