Morsi’s Grab for Power: Egyptian Revolutionaries Take on Radical Islam

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Daniel Steinvorth and Volkhard Windfuhr, Nov. 26, 2012 (Photo GalleryTranslated from the German by Paul Cohen).

Egyptians elected Mohammed Morsi to the Egyptian presidency just a few months ago. Now, the Muslim Brotherhood leader has made a grab for absolute power. The move has torn open old wounds in the fledgling democracy and threatens to resurrect the revolution that swept away his predecessor Hosni Mubarak two years ago … //

… Revived Revolutionary Spirit:

  • Last Thursday, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi unexpectedly granted himself such extensive rights that there is effectively no longer a separation of powers in the Arab world’s most populous country.
  • Morsi has decreed that the president will from now on have the last word “on all constitutional amendments, decisions and laws.” According to his plan, no state organ will be able to tell him what to do and not even the country’s constitutional court will have the power to stand up to him.
  • The “new pharaoh,” as Morsi has already been branded in Egypt, will in the future presumably only have to be accountable to God and to the executive committee of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose membership the president has probably never terminated, in contrast to what he claims.
  • If Morsi doesn’t rescind his decree, it will probably take nothing short of a renewed uprising in Egypt to challenge the president’s power. Indeed, after sacking his chief prosecutor, Abdel Maguid Mahmoud, who was a member of the old regime, Morsi no longer has any opponents – with the exception of the Egyptian people.
  • While Muslim Brotherhood supporters gathered last Friday in front of the presidential palace to cheer Morsi, his opponents demonstrated on Cairo’s Tahrir Square. “We don’t want a new dictatorship,” they yelled. “The people intend to topple the religious leader.”
  • Suddenly it’s back again: the revolutionary spirit that many here have been missing for months now. Except this time the demonstrators’ rage is not directed at Hosni Mubarak, but rather at their first democratically elected president. “People are finally waking up,” says Dina Abd al-Soud with tears in her eyes. A group of young men walk by wearing Palestinian scarves and carry megaphones. Al-Soud chants with them: “Down with the regime! We won’t go, you have to go!”
  • The 37-year-old woman manages a nearby hotel. She says business has become more difficult since the economy took a downturn. And she notes that she increasingly receives critical looks because she doesn’t wear a headscarf, but instead allows her hair to hang loose. But on this evening, she says that her sense of hope is returning. “Morsi has made a stupid mistake. He’s lost his credibility. Now, the people will resist.”

Egypt ’s Decisive Turning Point: … //

… Nightmare for Secular Egyptians:

  • Two weeks ago nearly 50 children died in a horrific traffic accident in the province of Assiut — an incident that underscored the miserable state of the country’s infrastructure. In addition to derelict public hospitals, schools, highways and bridges, the railway network is completely decrepit.
  • There are enormous economic and social problems in the country, yet Morsi, who has headed the government for the past five months, has preferred to focus on removing his opponents. He sacked the country’s top generals, ordered the closure of critical TV stations and had headstrong journalists punished. What’s more, he appointed Muslim Brothers to key ministerial positions and made no attempt to be the “president of all Egyptians.”
  • The only remarkable thing about Morsi’s accomplishments in office is the speed with which he has cemented his power. Egypt currently has neither a parliament nor a constitution, and the president’s decrees constitute the final word on all political matters. A council appointed by the last parliament is working on a new constitution, but this body is nearly completely controlled by Islamists.
  • Left-wingers, liberals, Nasserists, women and Christians have all resigned from the council, out of protest over the dominating influence of the Muslim Brothers and Salafists.
  • In one draft of the constitution, the Islamists proposed changing the rights and obligations of women to match the “rules of Sharia law.” For Egyptian women’s rights activist Karima al-Hefnawy, this would be the equivalent of requiring all women to wear the hijab, as is the case in Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, according to Hefnawy, women are already discriminated against in Egypt: “Many Islamists make no secret of the fact that they want to make women legally subservient to men.”
  • In order to properly apply the Sharia code of conduct, the Islamists suggested that they should be interpreted by Muslim legal scholars, known as ulama. This would allow the ulama to acquire the same status as constitutional judges — a nightmare for secular Egyptians.
  • Participants speak of debates on the constitutional council in which members discuss the merits of lowering the legal age of marriage for girls from 18 to 14 — or even to 9 years. The recently disenfranchised constitutional court would have been the only authority capable of dissolving the council. But even this hope has been dashed.

Not Just Isolated Lunatics:

  • Consequently, even the most radical Islamists have become part of the daily political landscape in Egypt.
  • This includes preachers such as Wajdi Ghunaim, who views secular Egyptians as infidels who should be punished with death.
  • There are also ultraconservative Salafists like Murgan Salem al-Gohary, who boasts that he was present when the Taliban dynamited the famous Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in 2001. On a recent TV show, Gohary called for all “symbols of blasphemy” to be destroyed in Egypt as well, such as the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Sphinx and all other “idolatrous images” from the days of the pharaohs.
  • It would be wrong to maintain that these are just isolated lunatics. Back when Mubarak was in power, he would have had such extremists jailed, but they now appear on private TV networks with an unprecedented degree of confidence. And this speaks volumes about the current political climate in Egypt. Former Muslim Brother Sharnubi says that the Brotherhood is probably tolerating even the most radical Salafists because it will need their support.
  • He no longer believes in a peaceful solution to the conflict, and predicts that there will soon be violent confrontations between the various camps. And he expects that there will be further attempts on his life.
  • Sharnubi barely survived such an attack on Nov. 2. Two masked men forced his car off the road and shot at him with automatic pistols until help arrived. There was never an investigation, but he says he knows who was behind the attack.

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