In describing the political crisis that Egypt is currently witnessing, it can be said that everybody has climbed the tree but do not know how to get down. This demonstrates the escalatory positions being taken by the competing political forces over the constitutional declaration, the constitutional referendum, the Constituent Assembly and the shape of the future state that should follow the present transitional phase.
On the part of the Egyptian President, his climbing of the tree is represented by the escalation that followed the strong response from the opposition powers – civil parties and forces – to his constitutional declaration in which he grasped all three branches of government. He then escalated matters with a referendum on the constitution that the Constituent Assembly rushed to complete in just two days, after it had previously been granted two months to do so. In response, the other forces did not find any other option but to also adopt an escalatory position, calling for a boycott of this referendum and a million-man protest today to march to the presidential palace. This comes amidst fears of clashes and violence, particularly if the Islamist forces – represented by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist parties – take the decision to confront this march with a counter-march.
The current political and social situation is epitomized by division, and this is something that may have been present since the first referendum on what should come first, elections or the constitution? The gap between the two parties has increased until reaching the point of tension and the current crisis. Furthermore, it seems that there is no clear exit from this as long as there is no willingness for genuine compromise and concessions, in order to achieve a degree of national consensus and emerge unscathed from this dangerous situation, which everybody is talking about.
The natural situation that should have been in place two years after the 25th January revolution and a stuttering transitional stage would have seen legitimacy gradually being transferred from the public squares to the elected authorities and institutions, and that has not happened. In fact, the state of division and tension has reached unprecedented levels: the judiciary is in conflict with the presidency, whilst Islamist powers are launching fierce attacks against it; and the state cannot impose its authority. The best example of this is the inability of the Constitutional Court to hold its sessions; and although the army is monitoring the situation, it would be very difficult to intervene in such a case of societal division.
A huge part of the reason why we have reached this state of affairs is due to a mistaken reading of the situation by the Muslim Brotherhood, particularly regarding society, its political forces and the traditions of its institutes. Nobody can accept the assault and transgression that occurred in front of the Constitutional Court and put simply it is the lowest form of demagoguery. In addition to this, the signs of tension are clear to see amongst normal Egyptians, who view this as an attempt to abduct them down a path that is inconsistent with the makeup of their society.
This may be the result of delusions of grandeur following the results the Brotherhood achieved at the ballot box at the parliamentary and Shura Council elections, which took place during abnormal and confused conditions. This may explain the Brotherhood’s mistaken reading of the situation, which may also be the reason for the escalation on the part of the presidency, putting forward this disputed constitution for referendum, without first obtaining a reasonable assessment of the response of the other powers, who have found themselves in a position where their only choice is further escalation. Nobody can predict what the next few days will bring, or what will happen during today’s protests, however if this constitutional referendum takes place amidst the boycott of the opposition and a large part of the judiciary, then it will always be a constitution of questionable legitimacy, whilst it would also not be able to put an end to the state of division and tension. On the contrary, it will only serve to increase this. Constitutions must be based on national consensus for these are not things that can be changed every few months. The solution to the crisis is to search for ways to climb down from the tree by putting forward political concessions, particularly on the part of the ruling party. This must take into account the fact that the vision for the future of the country must not be a partisan one, or one put forward by a certain group that has come to power and believes that this is its opportunity after 80 years on the street. Instead, there must be a comprehensive vision that takes everybody into account, and does not contradict the social and political development of the country.