Director Mazen Said
Director Mazen Said
This article originally appeared on GlobalPost. Via Salon.com, by Erin Cunningham
The protests that have seized Tahrir Square in Cairo are eerily reminiscent of those from just a year ago
CAIRO, Egypt — Tens of thousands of Egyptians poured into Cairo’s Tahrir Square Friday in the latest protests against newly-elected Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi.
At one of the largest protests yet against Morsi’s five-month rule, demonstrators in the iconic plaza waved anti-Brotherhood signs and chanted against the leader, who they say is taking the country back toward dictatorship. Morsi made a presidential decree on Nov. 22 that gave him broad powers immune from judicial review.
In the same breath, anti-Morsi protesters also voiced opposition to the Brotherhood-dominated constitutional committee that last night rammed through a draft constitution that lacked the support of Egypt’s Coptic Church and many secular representatives.
In a marathon session that ended in the early hours of Friday morning, the members of the Morsi-allied constituent assembly voted in a new constitution that the New York-based Human Rights Watch says offers only mixed support of key social and political rights.
The document does curb executive power, including limiting the number of presidential terms to two, and Morsi had vowed to scrap his new authority once a new constitution was ratified. The charter still needs to be put to a national referendum.
But Tahrir Square protesters, many of whom fought in Egypt’s 18-day uprising nearly two years ago to remove the autocrat Hosni Mubarak, were unmoved by the provisions. Many said said they did not believe Morsi would concede power.
“Egypt is going down a very dangerous path and right now, and we have two choices: an Islamic dictatorship or freedom and democracy,” said 48-year-old financial manager Sayed Al Sherbine, in Tahrir.
Suspicion of the powerful Brotherhood organization that supported Morsi’s presidential campaign also ran deep.
“Islam is a religion of democracy and freedom — and the Muslim Brotherhood does not represent Islam,” Al Sherbine said. “They only represent themselves.”
The current impasse began on Nov. 22 when Morsi announced the edict that granted him sweeping authority. Many observers said the move was a bid to guard the pro-Islamist assembly from potential dissolution by an upcoming Supreme Constitutional Court ruling on the body’s legality. The ruling by the court, which critics say is dominated by Mubarak-era judges, could have again upended Egypt’s already rocky transition to democratic rule.
Earlier this year, the court dissolved a Brotherhood-led parliament as well as a previous constituent assembly that was stacked with Islamists.
Brotherhood officials say Morsi’s maneuvers were meant to head-off a greater battle with the judiciary.
Because Egypt’s elected parliament was dissolved in June, legislative authority is now vested in the president.
But the result has been growing, and there has been vocal opposition to what anti-Morsi demonstrators see as an attempt by the president and his Islamist allies to consolidate power, roll back rights and sideline minorities.
Many protesters in Tahrir admitted to not having read the new constitution but said they were more concerned with the conditions under which it was passed in the assembly.
Of the 85 assembly members that voted Thursday, none were Christians, only four were women and all were Islamists, according to the Associated Press. Rights groups say while the document contains strong provisions against human rights violations like torture and arbitrary detention, it fails to protect women’s rights.
“The main reason why the constituent assembly should have been dissolved by the court is that it is not politically or socially representative,” said Ziad Akl, a senior researcher at the Cairo-based Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “It simply means that the constitution is a continuation of the rule of the [Islamist] majority.”
In Tahrir, the epicenter of the popular revolt that ousted Mubarak, protesters called on Morsi to rescind his decree and form a new constituent assembly that represents broader sections of Egyptian society, including non-Islamists, women and religious minorities.
“We were against this assembly from the beginning,” said 32-year-old Abu Bakra Mahmoud, a teacher in Cairo. “The constitution was cooked,” he said, adding that he believed it was manufactured through a series of backroom deals among the Islamist parties.
“We will keep coming to Tahrir, and we will keep protesting.”
Beyond protesting, it remained unclear what both demonstrators and secular opposition groups planned to do to continue to pressure Morsi. Some vowed to stage a sit-in at the square, while other political parties said they were drawing up demands for the president.
“We are giving him a warning to leave power or we will make him leave by force,” said a 59-year-old male teacher who did not want to give his name. “He doesn’t represent us. It’s like the revolution never happened.”
I confess, I’m guilty. I had my doubts many a time during the last 22 months. Sure I was for Mubarak’s ousting. Sure I was jubilant when Egyptians became free. I remember jumping up and down and cheering like a child as Omar Suleiman announced on television that Mubarak had stepped down.
But I also had many worries and concerns. The higher the bar went and the more adamant the demands became, the further I sunk into my gloom and doom. Egypt was being torn apart, and it seemed that no one was for Egypt, but everyone was for being proven right and proving others wrong.
Then came November 27—a day almost as memorable as January 25. Morsi had announced his Constitution Decree causing Egyptians to congregate in Tahrir once again.
Not surprising though, Tahrir saw many new faces. The couch sitters—“7ezb el kanaba,” as they became known, were there—those who never left the comfort of their homes and seemed either against the activists or at least too worried of the after effects of the revolution. These are apolitical and peaceful Egyptians and yet they were suddenly moved enough to protest—something they may never, ever, have done or thought they would do in their whole lives.
The “feloul” were there, too—the remnants of the old regime. They would never have thought of approaching Tahrir, but there they were fighting for rights and justice as all other Egyptians.
These newcomers joined the old faces in Tahrir, those rugged with experience on how to abate the effect of tear gas, how to keep warm in the Square at night, and how to spend days and weeks in Tahrir far from family and relatives.
Morsi succeeded in uniting them all. It’s been difficult getting all these Egyptians to unite, and he has accomplished it. The troubling matter is that Morsi has united all these Egyptians against him.
And this time round I have no qualms or doubts; all Egyptians should be in Tahrir.
Just about every action that Morsi has taken since taking oath was displeasing to Egyptians. Even his wheeling and dealing in the Gaza crisis, though he was hailed as wise and pragmatic, hasn’t been clarified to the public. The ultimate ramifications are being leaked out to Egyptians by the Israeli media.
President Morsi has chosen the wrong route. Over and above the dictatorial decree, he opted to speak in its defense specifically to his followers instead of the Egyptian nation as a whole—an unforgivable error. On that particular day, behind him was his photograph in huge dimensions proving that he may have learnt nothing from Mubarak’s ordeal.
More “incidents” have aggravated Egyptians. Mrs. Morsi, who has yet to play any social role, travelled to Damanhour to pay her respect to the Muslim Brotherhood family who lost its son in the clashes that followed. She hadn’t paid respects to the families in Assyout where 49 children died in the train crash, or to any of the other fallen Egyptians here and there. I say, don’t go if you cannot go to all.
As days go by, the opportunity for Morsi to rescind his decree is slipping. He is proving he is more adamant and relentless in his ways than a country on the verge of a civil war can take. He is definitely not uniting the people but leading them to the point of no return. Egyptians from all walks of life—judges, politicians, and ordinary ones keep telling him that this is unacceptable, and he denies that indeed the opposition exists or is of consequence.
But by refusing to relinquish the decree, Morsi would be proving the following: he is unable to represent all Egyptians and doesn’t care what happens to them, for his allegiance is to the Muslim Brotherhood Party and his followers only. This is quite shameful.
President Morsi must bear the consequences of his action. It is acceptable to fight the regime or lawmakers. It is not acceptable to fight other Egyptians. President Morsi’s decree and obliviousness is forcing Egyptians to take that route: all Egyptians against the Muslim Brotherhood.
I have to warn President Morsi that Egyptians have learnt not to forego their rights, and they are, surprisingly enough, willing and ready to lose their lives for Egypt, justice, and freedom. Egyptians in Tahrir and elsewhere will not condescend.
Though President Morsi has succeeded in uniting Egyptians, he should wake up before it is too late, for he is taking Egypt to a foreboding abyss.
Via BBC News--very informative piece. Please click on the link below to see the two constitutions set side by side. All differences are made quite obvious.
Critics have warned the draft could impose a more Islamic system on Egypt, and that it fails to guarantee the equality of men and women.
The BBC News website compares the 1971 constitution, which was suspended following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, and the draft charter, which must be passed by a popular referendum.
LONDON — President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt has made a big blunder. His motives may have been honorable — I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt — but the error is grave and needs to be rectified.
His seizure through decree of near absolute power, placing him above judicial oversight, recalls the famous phrase of the French diplomat Talleyrand: “Worse than a crime, it was a mistake.”
Morsi says his move is temporary — a means to fast-forward Egypt out of its post-revolutionary limbo — but “temporary” is not a credible word in a nation where the ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s “emergency” dictatorial powers lasted decades.
The constitution of the most important Arab state — home to almost 25 percent of the world’s Arabs, the litmus test of the freedoms promised by the Arab Spring — cannot be forced through by a constitutional assembly that has lost about a quarter of its 100 members, mainly liberals and women who have walked out in protest. It now amounts to a discredited rump body dominated by parties of Islamist inspiration.
Not when the nation’s judges (who would have to supervise an eventual referendum on a draft constitution) have gone on strike and Morsi through his rashness has accomplished a singular political feat: Uniting Egypt’s ineffective and divided liberal-secular factions inmass street protests and a demand that the decree be revoked. A tweet from Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian Nobel laureate, comparing Morsi to a new Pharaoh has resonated.
Morsi must press the reset button. Democratic politics is laborious; ask President Obama. He cannot avoid difficult political trading in an Egypt where he won the presidential election this year with 51.7 percent of the vote. The other 48.3 percent cannot be trampled upon. At a minimum his decree must be undone and the constitutional assembly given the credibility only inclusiveness can confer.
I said I was inclined to give Morsi the benefit of the doubt on his motives. He knows dictatorship will not fly in the new Egypt. He outmaneuvered the military, helped on Gaza, was brave on Iran and Syria. He is a product of a Muslim Brotherhood culture that, as a result of fierce repression, inclined toward the conspiratorial and secretive. Enemies were everywhere.
It is easy to see how, with a court decision looming Sunday that might dissolve the constitutional assembly, Morsi would have convinced himself of an ancien-régime plot to undermine popular will and put Egypt back at square one in its transition. The problem is he did not try to resolve the issue by reaching out. He closed himself in an absolutist cocoon and has allowed voting on the draft to begin.
In a recent interview in Cairo, Essam Soltan, a prominent lawyer who was a member of the Brotherhood and left to form his own party, told me: “Morsi represents the will of the people. Still you must remember he comes from a movement with 60 years of being forced underground. This produces diseases; wild generalizations like seeing everyone as the enemy of religion.
“Interests and human ideas should be the basis for discussion, not religion. But the left and liberals also have problems. Their ideas came from outside rather than within an Egyptian democratic system.”
Plenty of liberals these days in Egypt are inclined to reduce liberty to a subordinate clause. Yes, they say, we are free to say what we like, write what we like, and that’s dandy, but we cannot abide the Muslim Brotherhood and oppose whatever they do. To which I would say freedom is not a parenthesis. And 51.7 percent in a democracy is enough to govern.
Egypt has traveled a long way: U.S.-trained generals have saluted a freely elected Brotherhood president and a proud nation has emerged from a crippling political deep freeze. But the achievements are fragile.
Morsi and his liberal opposition would do well to recall Benjamin Franklin’s words on emerging from the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and being asked what system of government had been adopted: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
Keeping Egypt’s newfound freedom will take courage and compromise. Morsi must correct his mistake and Obama should work hard behind the scenes to ensure that. Liberals must come together and accept trade-offs.
The draft constitution fails Egypt by favoring the Islamic camp, but the problems are not insurmountable. Since I wrote about it last month, a controversial clause that said men and women have equal rights “insofar as this does not conflict with the rulings of Islamic Shariah” has been dropped. This is important.
A broad compromise alluding to the “principles” of Islamic law as a guiding reference, as in the current Constitution, seemed to have been reached earlier this month but disintegrated as Islamists tried to rush through the draft document, whose concentration of power in the presidency is worrying.
Railroading a document of this importance is not an option. Egypt will split, investment dry up and unrest continue. Morsi must overcome his Brotherhood suspicions to forge a credible constitutional assembly including liberal opponents who, like Republicans in Congress, should now express patriotism through pragmatism.
A free Egypt, the first, is worth keeping. It could be a core agent of change in a region that desperately needs new thinking.
Via NY Times, by David K. Kirpatrick and Mayy El Sheikh (contributing)--excerpt
CAIRO — Racing against the threat of dissolution by judges appointed by ousted President Hosni Mubarak, and ignoring howls of protest from secular opponents, the Islamists drafting Egypt’s new constitution voted Friday to approve a charter that human rights groups and international experts said was full of holes and ambiguities.
The result would fulfill some of the central demands of the revolution: the end of Egypt’s all-powerful presidency, a stronger parliament and provisions against torture or detention without trial. But it would also give Egypt’s generals much of the power and privilege they had during the Mubarak era and would reject the demands of ultraconservative Salafis to impose puritanical moral codes.
Yet the contents of the document were perhaps less contentious than the context in which it was being adopted. Adding to the divisive atmosphere in Egypt, its passage was expected after almost all the delegates from secular parties and Coptic Christians walked out and protesters took to the streets.
Dismissing the discord, President Mohamed Morsi, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, said in a televised interview on Thursday that he expected to call for an almost immediate referendum on the draft constitution to help bring Egypt’s chaotic political transition to a close — “a difficult birth from the womb of an ancient nation.”
“We are going to get out of this short bottleneck hugging each other,” he added.
But Mohamed ElBaradei, an opposition leader and former United Nations diplomat, compared the proposed constitution to the charters that Egypt’s former authoritarian rulers passed in rigged plebiscites. “It will not survive,” he said.
The Coptic Church, whose members are believed to make up about 10 percent of Egyptians, directed its representatives on the assembly to boycott the vote. One representative said the constitution represented only the Islamists who had drafted it. “Not the constitution of Egypt,” the church negotiator, Kamel Saleh, told the state newspaper Al Ahram.
But several independent analysts said the hasty way in which it was prepared led to more problems than any ideological agenda. Instead of starting from scratch and drawing on the lessons of other countries, the deadline-conscious drafters tinkered with Egypt’s existing Constitution, without attempting to radically remake Egyptian law in any particular direction, said Ziad Al-Ali, who has tracked the assembly for the International Institute for Democratic and Electoral Assistance, an intergovernmental organization in Sweden.
On the question of Islamic law’s place in Egyptian jurisprudence, the assembly left unchanged a longstanding article at the beginning of the text grounding Egyptian law in the “principles of Islamic law.”
But in an attempted compromise between the ultraconservatives and their liberal opponents, the proposed constitution added a new article defining those principles in accordance with established schools of Sunni Muslim thought.
Some liberals expressed fear that conservatives Islamist judges and lawmakers could ultimately use the new clause to push Egypt to the right. But liberals who signed on to the compromise said the language was broad enough to give judges grounds to argue for individual rights, too.
Egypt’s generals, who seized power at Mr. Mubarak’s ouster and who relinquished it to Mr. Morsi only in August, retain many of their prerogatives. The defense minister would be chosen from the military’s officers. Insulating the armed forces from parliamentary oversight, a special council that includes military officers would oversee military affairs and the defense budget. And the military would retain the ability to try civilians in military courts if they are accused of damaging the armed forces. On individual rights, the constitution is a muddle. Believers in any of the three Abrahamic religions — Islam, Christianity and Judaism — are guaranteed the freedom of worship, but only those three.
Though symbolic--still good. Mabrook!
New York (CNN) -- The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday endorsed an upgraded U.N. status for the Palestinian Authority, despite intense opposition from the United States and Israel.
The resolution elevates their status from "non-member observer entity" to "non-member observer state," the same category as the Vatican, which Palestinians hope will provide new leverage in their dealings with Israel.
Its leaders had been working with dozens of supporting nations to develop a formal draft, enlisting the backing of European countries such as France and Spain.
The vote was 138 delegates in favor of the measure, nine against and 41 abstentions, including Germany.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the move, which many call symbolic, represents a "last chance to save the two-state solution."
It comes on the heels of an eight-day conflict that raged between Israel and Hamas fighters, where a series of airstrikes and rocket launches drew international attention and threatened regional stability.
"We did not come here seeking to delegitimize a state established years ago, and that is Israel; rather we came to affirm the legitimacy of the state that must now achieve its independence, and that is Palestine," he said.
But Israel's U.N. ambassador Ron Prosor said the move largely ignores the specifics of longstanding issues, such as settlements in disputed lands, and cannot substitute for direct negotiations between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
This resolution "doesn't pursue peace," Prosor said, criticizing Abbas for being unable to represent the Gaza Strip, where a Hamas-controlled government presides.
"It pushes it backwards," he said.
The effort stalled last year when it became apparent that the bid could not get the necessary support in the Security Council. Observer state status does not require Security Council approval, unlike full membership recognition.
The observer status resolution needs only a majority of the U.N.'s 193 members to approve.
The United States and Israel have remained steadfast in their opposition, saying the move will not advance the cause of Middle East peace.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said American leaders could not support a measure that circumvents direct talks and cautioned that Thursday's decision did "not establish Palestine as a state."
Rice urged both sides to the resume direct negotiations without preconditions.
"Israel is prepared to live in peace with the Palestinian state," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday. "But for peace to endure, Israel's security must be protected, the Palestinians must recognize the Jewish state and they must be prepared to end the conflict with Israel once and for all."
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev called the resolution "political theater."
But Palestinian leaders have said they had the right to go to the U.N. because Israel failed to comply with agreements signed more than two decades ago.
"It's about a contract. Our contract is that in five years, we should have concluded the treaty of peace and all core issues. This did not happen, and we're talking about 20 years later. And going to the U.N. is not a unilateral step," Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said in September.
The last round of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was in 2010.
Erakat said the new status would eliminate Israeli justifications for building settlements in the disputed areas of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
But Israeli officials disagreed.
"No decision by the U.N. can break the 4,000-year-old bond between the people of Israel and the land of Israel," Netanyahu said.
Via Bikia Masr--wonder who will oversee the referendum, the Muslim Brotherhood?President Morsi must realize that he can't attain full power. He needs the help of "other" Egyptians to do even that.
CAIRO: Egypt’s judges will not oversee the referendum on the new constitution whose final draft is scheduled to be put to vote on Thursday, leading figures in the Judges Club said on Wednesday.
The draft which will be presented to President Mohamed Morsi is “a ruining of legitimacy and an attempt to circumvent … established principles”, Judge Abdullah Fathi, first undersecretary of the club, told Aswat Masriya.
This decision comes in protest against what Fathi called the “deliberate attempts to undermine the judicial authority starting from the endeavors to sack the prosecutor general, the contents of the draft constitution and finally the latest constitutional declaration which is an unprecedented assault on judicial authority,” he added.
“How can a draft constitution be proposed in light of these withdrawals (from the constituent assembly)? And how can reserve members who replaced those who withdrew vote on a constitution they did not take part in drafting?” Fathi said in reference to liberals who quit the assembly.
The judges’ stance is declared and does not need discussion, undersecretary of the Judges Club Judge Mahmoud al-Sherif said, adding that they will not supervise the referendum in light of these attempts to ruin legitimacy and infringe on the judicial authority especially following Morsi’s constitutional decree.
Via The New Republic, by Eric Trager--excerpt
Nobody should have been surprised when Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi issued a “constitutional declaration” on Thursday asserting total political power. This was, after all, the former Muslim Brotherhood leader’s second power grab since he took office in June, complementing his earlier seizure of legislative and constitution-writing authorities by now insulating himself from judicial oversight. Yet Washington was caught entirely off-guard: Morsi’s power play was at odds with the administration’s view that the Muslim Brotherhood is a “democratic party,” and his impressive handling of last week’s Gaza ceasefire created a modicum of trust between him and President Obama. So the State Department released a predictably confused statement, urging “all Egyptians to resolve their differences … peacefully and through democratic dialogue.”
Washington ought to have known by now that “democratic dialogue” is virtually impossible with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now mobilizing throughout Egypt to defend Morsi’s edict. The reason is that it is not a “democratic party” at all. Rather, it is a cultish organization that was never likely to moderate once it had grasped power.
That’s because the very process through which one becomes a Muslim Brother is designed to weed out moderates. It begins when specially designated Brotherhood recruiters, who work at mosques and universities across Egypt, identify pious young men and begin engaging them in social activities to assess their suitability for the organization. The Brotherhood’s ideological brainwashing begins a few months later, as new recruits are incorporated into Brotherhood cells (known as “families”) and introduced to the organization’s curriculum, which emphasizes Qur’anic memorization and the writings of founder Hassan al-Banna, among others. Then, over a five-to-eight-year period, a team of three senior Muslim Brothers monitors each recruit as he advances through five different ranks of Brotherhood membership—muhib, muayyad, muntasib, muntazim, and finally ach amal, or “active brother.”
Throughout this process, rising Muslim Brothers are continually vetted for their embrace of the Brotherhood’s ideology, commitment to its cause, and—most importantly—willingness to follow orders from the Brotherhood’s senior leadership. As a result, Muslim Brothers come to see themselves as foot soldiers in service of the organization’s theocratic credo: “Allah is our objective; the Quran is our law; the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations.” Meanwhile, those dissenting with the organization’s aims or tactics are eliminated at various stages during the five-to-eight-year vetting period.
Via Ahram Online
Prime Minister Hisham Qandil asks security forces to take all legal measures against provocateurs who throw stones and Molotov cocktails during protests
Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil has called on the police to arrest provocateurs who attack security forces and public buildings with stones and Molotov cocktails during protests.
He made the comments during his first visit to the area around Tahrir Square that has been the site of ongoing skirmishes between police and protesters since President Morsi made his controversial constitutional declaration on 22 November.
Qandil called on security forces to undertake all necessary legal and security measures to arrest provocateurs and put them on trial.
This is the first time Qandil has called on the security forces to take firm action against those involved in the current clashes. “I understand how hard it is for the police to deal with provocateurs who target the safety of the nation while they are shielded by peaceful protesters,” he said.
State-owned Radio Masr on Thursday quoted a security source who denied President Morsi had asked the interior minister to disperse the ongoing Tahrir Square sit-in by force.
Violent clashes have taken place nationwide between pro- and anti-Muslim Brotherhood protesters since the president made his constitutional declaration on 22 November. Islam Fathi, a 15-year-old Muslim Brotherhood member, died during violence in Damanhour in the Nile Delta and Fathi Ghareeb of the Socialist Popular Alliance suffocated from excessive tear gas inhalation in Tahrir Square. Over 400 people have also been injured.
Salah Gabr 'Jika', 16, died after being shot in the head and chest by rubber bullets during protests marking the first anniversary of last year's Mohamed Mahmoud Street clashes.