The insistence to go ahead with the constitutional referendum in Egypt, despite the fundamental objections and huge demonstrations, is certainly adding more fuel to the fire of discord. This is happening at a time when the country is in dire need of stability in order to overcome the serious dangers threatening it. In such circumstances, Egypt requires genuine calming steps rather than maneuvers to carry out partisan projects or plots. The problem is that all the steps and decrees taken since the initial constitutional declaration on the 21st November 2012, which sparked the gravest crisis Egypt has faced since the outbreak of the revolution, suggest that the Brotherhood and their allies from other Islamist groups are only interested in passing the draft constitution regardless of the subsequent harm and risks involved, in light of the widespread opposition to the steps taken so far. It seems as if they are only interested in partisan gains, rather than the entire country with all its components and different social categories.
Many hoped that the new constitutional declaration issued by President Mursi last Saturday would serve as a real step towards defusing the crisis, rather than igniting it. However, a reading of its contents caused these hopes to be dashed, for the constitutional declaration failed to bring in anything new and seemed like another manuever to circumvent the protests, distract the opposition and buy more time until the referendum becomes a reality next Saturday. Although the new constitutional declaration’s very first article stipulates the retraction of the previous decree, issued on November 21st, practically speaking it changes very little because it has preserved the subsequent impact. What does it mean when a declaration is cancelled and yet its subsequent impact remains valid?
Furthermore, Article IV of the new decree renders all constitutional declarations, including the most recent one, immune from any attempt to cancel them and makes them incontestable before any judicial authority. Likewise it stipulates that all previous claims lodged against these decrees must be dismissed. This article, with slight amendments, is basically quoting Article II of the previous constitutional declaration, and it has produced the same results.
Mursi and the Brotherhood are trying to convince the people that they have offered considerable concessions to the protestors by cancelling the initial constitutional declaration. However, the truth of the matter is that they are only using this as a cover; for they have formally cancelled the degree yet maintained its content. This was clearly expressed by Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, even before the new declaration was issued, when he told the press last Saturday that those who have met with Mursi have agreed to form a committee to amend the constitutional declaration but in a manner that maintains its content. So we are talking about an amendment, not a cancellation, of the previous constitutional declaration. The Brotherhood do not want to offer concessions to end the crisis, rather they are maneuvering to put their project into action by any means possible regardless of the price. They acted likewise when they used the previous constitutional declaration to grant immunity to the constituent assembly, in an attempt to outdo the Supreme Constitutional Court. Now the Brotherhood are using the new decree to grant immunity to the forthcoming referendum, in the face of opposition and protests, in a bid to impose it as a reality.
The widespread rhetoric that the referendum date cannot be changed is hard to believe. Likewise, it is worth pointing out that when Mursi issued his first constitutional declaration on 21st November, granting himself and his decrees immunity beyond his powers, he seemed to ignore the constitutional oath he swore to maintain and respect.
The Brotherhood shouldn’t ignite a serious crisis in order to rapidly pass a constitution regardless of the opposition on the street. Yet they have persisted in imposing it, and now they are circumventing and maneuvering to have it approved by a referendum. They seem indifferent to the crisis that threatens the country and the tense climate in which no free referendum could be held. The Brotherhood are also resorting to a policy of intimidation and the use of force, as was made apparent by the military parades staged by the group and other allied Islamist groups following their assault on protestors staging a demonstration in front of the presidential palace. Finally, the Brotherhood are also proceeding with their campaign against the judiciary and are besieging the Supreme Constitutional Court, whilst simultaneously escalating their war on the media in an attempt to control it. They are seeking to “purify” the media of those who oppose them, and thus they are targeting the Egyptian Media Production City.
To justify all that they are doing, Mohammed Badie, the Brotherhood’s General Guide, and his deputy Khairat el-Shatar came out to promote the theory of a foreign conspiracy, and to tell the people that there are those attempting to rise up against legitimacy and seize power. El-Shater even went beyond this and said that the Brotherhood will not allow the revolution to be seized again, accusing Mursi’s opponents of seeking to create chaos although they do not exceed 30,000 demonstrators! This rhetoric is fuelling emotions and adding to the tension on the street. In the same manner it is prolonging the crisis, particularly in view of the Brotherhood’s insistence to pass the constitution regardless of consequences in the current climate.
The state constitution is not a political party document, nor is it an interpretation of a certain group’s views at the expense of other components of society. Rather, a constitution is the structure of governance as well as its mechanisms, and it is the guarantor of rights and freedoms and the umbrella under which all social components operate. In order for this to happen, priority must be given to the concept of citizenship with the constitution functioning as a unifying element, rather than a cause for separation. Yet the Brotherhood and their allies from other Islamic groups have failed to show that they are dealing with the constitution in this manner. If they were doing so then they would have given priority to the country’s interests over those of their own group, and would have agreed to postpone the referendum.
These disagreements are tearing Egypt apart, along with the insistence that the referendum must be conducted on time and the failure to heed the strong objections being expressed by sizeable categories of the Egyptian people. If this continues the situation will become even more complicated and Egypt will be pushed towards further confrontations and an eventual abyss.