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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Is Egypt headed for civil war?

From Al Ahram:
Over 100,000 defiant protesters occupied Cairo's Tahrir Square on Tuesday to demand the cancellation of President Mohamed Morsi's controversial Thursday decree. Egypt’s ruling Islamists, however, showed no sign of backing down, suggesting that continued political deadlock is inevitable.

Facing his most serious domestic test since assuming power on 30 June, Morsi finds himself embroiled in a battle – with leftists, liberals, socialists, and several other influential political sectors – after issuing a decree that would shield his decisions from legal challenge until a new parliament is elected.

His decree also protects the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly (tasked with drafting the country's first post-revolution constitution) and the Shura Council (the upper house of Egypt's parliament) from dissolution. It also relieved Egyptian Prosecutor-General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud of his duties, bringing in Judge Talaat Abdullah as Mahmoud's replacement.

In rallies that remained largely peaceful, thousands took to the streets in Cairo, Alexandria, Assiut, Tanta, Mahalla, Mansoura, Luxor, Suez and Port Said, in scenes reminiscent of last year's 18-day uprising that unseated autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak.

Morsi, backed by Islamist parties and groups, has so far withstood immense pressure to reverse his decision, which has prompted opponents to brand him Egypt's "new Pharaoh."

He has also incurred the wrath of Egypt's judges, many of whom vowed to challenge his decree by calling strikes. Many journalists and lawyers were similarly infuriated by the president's latest move, which they believe poses a threat to democracy.

Thousands of lawyers marched from their syndicate to Tahrir Square, the cradle of last year's revolt, chanting "The people want the fall of the regime" – a slogan frequently heard during Mubarak's final days in power.

The Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, launched an attack on Morsi's opponents, accusing them of "not caring about the country's national interests."

"On January 25, united Egyptians [Islamists, liberals and leftists] revolted against autocracy, supported by millions across the country. Today is politics," the Islamist group declared on Twitter.

"When ordinary Egyptians across the nation see pro-Mubarak [elements] protesting in Tahrir along with Islamists' rivals, they know this isn't January 25," the group added. "The opposition thinks the significance of today is of Tahrir protestors; they should brace for millions in support of the elected president.”

The Brotherhood had initially planned to hold parallel demonstrations on Tuesday, but backtracked at the last minute to avoid potential clashes with its political rivals.
The Muslim Brotherhood website has articles supporting Morsi's decree, calling it "truly patriotic," saying it "protects the revolution," and calling the protesters "thugs" who are Mubarak supporters.

If the voting for Egypt's parliament is any guide, the 100,000 protesters are no match for what the Islamists can muster if they just say the word. So far, the protesters have been largely peaceful, and the Brotherhood has (wisely) chosen to avoid counterprotests that could easily devolve into violence.

Moreover, the protesters have no central idea unifying them outside of opposition to Morsi's decree. They are all over the map politically and even if they force new elections, the results would be the same. So right now they are limited to clever slogans and quips (“Shave your beard and show us your face, so we can see your true disgrace: you look just like Mubarak!” "“It used to be soccer distracted us from lousy presidents. Now lousy presidents are distracting us from soccer.”)

Morsi himself has given no indication of backing down in the least, and he even indirectly issued a veiled threat against the protesters:
President Mohamed Morsy will not retreat on the controversial constitutional declaration he issued Thursday, according to his chief of staff, Mohamed Refaa al-Tahtawi.

In an interview with Al-Hayat 2 satellite channel late Tuesday, Tahtawi claimed that Morsy’s supporters outnumbered his opponents, the tens of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square and around the country notwithstanding.

“No going back. I do not want to speak menacingly, but we are prepared for any escalations,” said Tahtawi. He added that the president’s office welcomes peaceful freedom of expression, but warned, “Any attempt to stir trouble outside of peaceful protesting will not be faced leniently.”
Indeed, journalists have been prominent fixtures at the protests as well, and at least two journalists were beaten by Morsi's security.

So far, it looks like Morsi will ride this one out, as at least the secularist protesters are not the types to mount a violent uprising, and nothing short of that will change anything.