Understanding Morsi’s Egypt: Who, What and Why

Last Thursday, Egyptian President Mohamad Morsi published a decree containing seven articles. The second stated that Morsi’s laws and decrees “are final and binding and cannot be appealed by any way or to any entity.” In layman’s terms, Morsi has made himself the absolute law of Egypt.

After the eruption of mass protests over the weekend, which is Friday and Saturday in the Middle East, the President issued a statement assuring the people who the decree was only temporary until a constitution had been drafted and a parliament appointed.

Political pundits are acutely aware that Morsi acted very quickly after he received so much praise from the international community for his role in negotiating the Isreal-Hamas ceasefire. Morsi’s actions certainly lead one to believe that this sweeping move, is characterized by Morsi’s desperation, and he struggles to achieve legitimacy from within Egypt’s own
governmental structures.

A senior advisor to the Muslim Brotherhood, Jihad Addad, explained Morsi’s problem to ABC News as being an exceptional circumstance since he is a President with no constitution, no defined powers and no parliament.

Morsi, a 60 year old US-trained engineer, continues to wrangle with legitimacy issues after having narrowly defeated Ahmed Shafiq, a retired airforce general, by a minimal 800,000 votes. This translated into 51.7 percent of the vote versus 48.3 with only 51 percent of eligible voters turning out to the polls.

Revolutionaries, such as youth leader Ahmed Maher, who led the April 6 movement in 2011 backed Islamist Morsi rather than Shafiq, whom he feared was a Hosni Mubarak loyalist. Subsequently he became a member of the 100-person Constituent Assembly responsible for the drafting of a new constitution. However, as a result of bullying by Islamist allies of Morsi, he — along with more than 20 other panel members — staged a walkout. Maher explains that the decree issued by Morsi serves only to shield him and the now wounded Constituent Assembly from the Judiciary so that they can force through an Islamic Constitution.

Mohamed El Baradi, a former Presidential candidate, has joined forces with rival liberals and secularists to form the National Salvation Front unveiled shortly after Morsi’s edict. The goal is simply to prevent the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood from “hijacking the country,” a party member told the Wall Street Journal last week.

After decades of terrorism, the organization disavowed violence in the early 1970s. It has since built an impressive grassroots base over the years with its populist message — advocating for the worker within the confines of Sharia Law, underscored by Sunni Islamic puritanism.

Protesters who spoke with various media outlets over the last several days highlight deep concerns for the rights of women and minorities, such as Coptic Christians. Coptic Christians comprise 10 percent of the population, and according to Morsi, should either convert or pay tribute to the government, or leave their homes. Others have expressed concerns over continued peace with Israel. Most, however, are deeply dissatisfied with the devastated economy.

Meanwhile, threats of confrontation, which mimic the defiant and fiery speech delivered by Morsi last Friday, have been clearly elucidated by Morsi’s camp. The Muslim Brotherhood went as far as calling for protests on Tuesday but cancelled the event on Monday night. In spite of this, many arrived in Alexandria to express support. Activists have been no less silent, and 100,000 protesters descended on Tahrir Square to call for Morsi’s resignation on Tuesday. Simultaneously, in a mosque next to Tahrir Square, mourners held a funeral for slain, 18 year old activist, Jabber Salah.

The grim reality is that while the revolution’s protests have been a remarkable institution buster, the protagonists are not organized and therefore are struggling to achieve their goals of sustained secularism and democracy. Morsi’s supporters recognize this inherent strength with his advisors lamenting the now almost-failed attempts by Morsi to “reform the country’s institutions.”

The exceptional grassroots organization of the Muslim Brotherhood is a sharp contrast, which has been meticulously developed since 1928. One flicker of hope is the Judiciary’s insistence that the edicts be withdrawn, even though Morsi feigned an attempt at compromise. Morsi’s backers have loudly accused the judiciary of being partial Hosni Mubarak appointees.

The USA continues to remain characteristically silent on the issue.

Sources have told the Wall Street journal that while Obama has not contacted Morsi, Hilary Clinton is working with her counterpart. The quoted source hinted that the US may withhold aid if President Morsi does not back down.

If Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda are overthrown, the effects are expected to ripple through the Middle East and particularly impact those countries such as Libya, which remain in a state of flux. The question for now is whether activists can remain energized and avoid the trap of ‘protest fatigue,’ especially now when the stakes are higher than ever before.

The situation in Egypt continues to escalate with ABC news quoting at least three deaths and 500 injuries since last Thursday.

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