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The Brotherhood and the constitution: A losing battle - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The battle for Egypt’s new draft constitution is a losing one by any standard, regardless of the outcome of the referendum. The constitution has pushed Egypt towards a serious division, and has fuelled an atmosphere of tension and polarization meaning that the coming days are susceptible to further confrontations and clashes that may be more severe than those we have witnessed in the past days and weeks. Amid such an atmosphere it is difficult to understand the insistence of the president, and behind him the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies from other Islamic groups, to proceed with the draft constitution and referendum. It was noticeable during the past period that spokespeople for the Brotherhood and their leaders have appeared more than President Mursi, who disappeared from view and rumors even began circulating on the internet that he had been “kidnapped”. Even some members of the Brotherhood took part in these rumors, one of which suggested that ElBaradei, Amr Musa and Dahi Khalfan (the Dubai police chief) had planned to kidnap Mursi and smuggle him out of Egypt! Such talk is inconceivable, but it has often been repeated in this atmosphere where we don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Mursi’s absence and the conspicuous appearance of Brotherhood leaders was a source of many questions, especially as those speaking on behalf of the group, including General Guide Mohammed Badie and his deputy Khairat el-Shater, spoke as if they were the decision makers, declaring their insistence to go ahead with the referendum and accusing other parties of being involved in a conspiracy against legitimacy, saying that they will not allow the revolution to be hijacked once again. Indeed, Dr. Essam el-Erian, vice chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party and a prominent leader within the Muslim Brotherhood, said that even if the draft constitution was not approved by the referendum this would not change anything, because the next constituent assembly to be established would be the same as the current one. Such words confirm the Brotherhood’s insistence on imposing their view upon the constitution and their unwillingness to listen to the opposition voices on the street, or to engage in a serious dialogue with other parties. Yet the constitution must be an expression of consensus among various components of society so as to achieve stability for the country and lay the foundations for the ruling system to be the guarantor of rights and freedoms, regulating the work of state institutions, regardless of changes in government and personnel.

The Brotherhood have dropped their masks and the arguments they were hiding behind, about how they would not interfere in the work of the president and his decisions. Every time Mursi issued a constitutional declaration or took a controversial decision the Brotherhood behaved as if they knew about it already, releasing statements and gathering their supporters to demonstrate even before the president had announced his steps. With regards to the constitution, the Brotherhood took the helm completely, bypassing the president and the Freedom and Justice party. The group’s leaders spoke as if the constitution was their document and their own battle. They organized demonstrations at specific locations raising certain slogans, and held press conferences to defend the draft constitution and attack its opponents, promoting talk of a conspiracy or a coup against legitimacy. They then used this as an excuse to send their supporters to confront those protesting against the constitution and Mursi’s latest decrees, leading to several deaths and many wounded. In light of the extensive presence of Brotherhood leaders and the virtual absence of Mursi from the scene, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi also appeared calling on Egyptians to vote “yes” to the draft constitution so as not to lose out on the US$20 billion promised by Qatar through investing in Egypt. This prompted many on social networking websites to question the relationship between Qatari funds, the referendum on the draft constitution and the Brotherhood’s rule, and to criticize Sheikh al-Qaradawi, whom they renamed ‘Sheikh al-Qatarawi”, for using Qatari funds in an attempt to influence the constitutional referendum. Among the critics were those who asked: What if another country proposed to invest US$ 30 billion for example, and this country was opposed to the draft constitution, would Sheikh al-Qaradawi call upon Egyptians to vote “no” in the referendum so as not to lose out on this sum?

The Brotherhood have lost a lot as a result of the manner in which they have behaved over the constitution. Likewise, President Mursi enraged the sentiments of the street with his constitutional declarations granting him powers beyond those set out in March 2011, which the people had ratified in a previous referendum. In that referendum 77 percent of the electorate voted, whilst the participation figures for the first phase of the current constitutional referendum do not exceed 31 percent, according to what has been published by the Egyptian media and endorsed by human rights organizations. Even within such a low turnout, about 56 percent support the constitution whilst 43 percent oppose it, according to what the Freedom and Justice party have announced. If we consider these numbers for a moment then it means that only a quarter of the Egyptian electorate has actually voted in favor of the draft constitution, whilst the remaining percentage either voted against it or boycotted it. The constitution is supposed to represent the consensus of the people of the country, with the support of the overwhelming majority, so how can it be considered legitimate in this case?

Human rights organizations, opposition forces and many activists have reported violations during the first phase of the referendum process, and have posted many images and videos on the internet to document these violations. For example, a number of supervisors have been revealed not to be judges, but still some posed as such and then fled when they were confronted by the people. There have also been attempts to disrupt voting, especially in polling stations with a high proportion of opposition members or Copts. Elsewhere, financial rewards have been handed out to those who voted “yes”, and others have been from voting. Other video clips show pre-prepared and signed ballot cards voting in favor of the constitution. These and other violations angered the judges who participated in the first phase and prompted them to withdraw from supervising the second phase, which will only increase the extent of doubt over the referendum result.

Amidst such an atmosphere no one can celebrate the results of the referendum or claim that it will move the country towards the desired stability and the rule of state institutions. In fact the draft constitution is pushing the country towards further congestion and is setting the scene for new confrontations that may end in results contrary to what the Brotherhood have calculated. They escalated the battle in the first place by directing their arrows towards the judiciary and the media, and it seems that these two domains will form the scene of the coming confrontation.

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani

Osman Mirghani is Asharq Al-Awsat's former deputy editor and senior editor-at-large.

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