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Mohammed Morsi is hardly the bumbler he was initially thought to be.
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Both the Constituent Assembly and the Shura Council — dominated by Islamists — have faced criticism for not sufficiently representing secularists and members of minorities like the Copts. Thus we also have Article V, which prohibits any judicial body from dissolving the Shura Council or Constituent Assembly.
Unsurprisingly, Morsi has been heavily criticized by senior members of the judiciary for his unilateral power grab, and here there is a clear contrast with the approach of Maliki, who — rather than attempting to openly defy the judiciary as Morsi has done — instead has placed numerous judges sympathetic to him in the courts. Increasing government control over the judiciary has likewise been the approach of Erdogan and the AKP in Turkey.
Anticipating the discontent in the street his constitutional declaration would inspire, Morsi has clothed his move in a populist garb, portraying himself as the protector of the “revolution” and ordering the retrial of those accused “of the murder, the attempted murder and the wounding of protestors as well as crimes of terror committed against the revolutionaries… under the former regime” (Article I).
On a related note, as Bassem Sabry points out, “the president issued expansions of the pensions for injured revolutionary protestors and widened the net of recipients.”
In this context, something needs to be said about a line of thought — first suggested to me by friend and occasional co-author Oskar Svadkovsky — that suggests that Morsi’s constitutional declaration is tied to Egypt’s recent signing of a loan deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in an attempt to solve the country’s economic crisis.
As part of this agreement, the Egyptian government will have to introduce substantial reductions in subsidies. Such a measure could provoke considerable resentment and popular protest — as illustrated by the recent wave of demonstrations in Jordan, whose government cut fuel subsidies.
The IMF agreement has already aroused considerable opposition in Egypt.
As Bikya Masr reports, earlier this month, a coalition of 17 political parties, NGOs, and human rights organizations called for an end to negotiations with the IMF. Morsi has also come under repeated fire from Salafists, who see a loan request as incompatible with the Islamic prohibition on usury.
With his constitutional declaration, Morsi can prevent a rescinding of the loan deal and also rally behind him Islamists who might oppose the IMF agreement, focusing their attention instead on those perceived to be the real enemy — namely, the secularists and liberals in Egypt.
In short, Morsi’s constitutional declaration can be regarded as an illustration of his desire to push forward with the IMF loan agreement, and such a motive is by no means mutually exclusive with his hardline autocratic tendencies, rooted as they are in his Islamist background.
At the same time it is evident that his power grab is only further polarizing a country that saw a fairly close competition for the presidency between Morsi and a non-Islamist rival. Significant unrest and major clashes at the ground level, which are nevertheless unlikely to pose any real threat to Morsi’s power, look set to remain a staple of the Egyptian political scene into next year.
If I could choose one analyst who best predicted the direction Egypt is heading, I would go with Martin Kramer. As he succinctly put it after Morsi’s election: “The simple truth is that Egypt isn’t going to revert to military rule. Egypt is headed toward populist Islamist rule, and it is just a matter of time before the Brotherhood checkmates its opponents.” Prophetic words indeed, though I doubt many commentators would concede Kramer was right all along.
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