Better ideas, not boycotts, needed to counter Morsi's excesses
OPINION:When you fly along the Mediterranean today, what do you see below? To the north, you look down at a European supranational state system – the European Union – that is cracking up.
And to the south, you look down at an Arab nation state system that is cracking up.
Egypt, the anchor of the whole Arab world, is embarked on a dangerous descent towards prolonged civil strife, unless a modus vivendi can be found between President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and his growing opposition.
If Syria and Egypt both unravel at once, this whole region will be destabilised. That’s why a billboard on the road to the Pyramids said it all: “God save Egypt.” What has brought hundreds of thousands of Egyptians back into the streets, many of them first-time protesters, is the fear that autocracy is returning to Egypt under the guise of Islam. The real fight here is about freedom, not religion.
The decisions by Morsi to unilaterally issue a constitutional decree that shielded him from judicial oversight (he has since rescinded most of it after huge protests) – and then to rush the completion of a new, highly imperfect, constitution and demand that it be voted on in a national referendum on Saturday without sufficient public debate – have rekindled fears that Egyptians have replaced one autocracy, led by Hosni Mubarak, with another, led by the Muslim Brotherhood.
What’s wrong with Morsi’s new draft constitution? On the surface, it is not some Taliban document. While the writing was dominated by Islamists, professional jurists had their input. Unfortunately, argues Mona Zulficar, a lawyer and an expert on the constitution, while it enshrines most basic rights, it also says they must be balanced by vague religious, social and moral values, some of which will be defined by clerical authorities.
This language opens loopholes, she said, that could enable conservative judges to restrict “women’s rights, freedom of religion, freedom of opinion and the press and the rights of the child”.
The wild street demonstrations for and against the constitution tell me one thing: if it is just jammed through by Morsi, Egypt will be building its new democracy on a deep fault line. It will never be stable. God is not going to save Egypt. It will be saved only if the opposition respects the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood won the election fairly – and resists its excesses not with boycotts (or dreams of a coup) but with better ideas that win the public to the opposition’s side.
And it will be saved only if Morsi respects that elections are not winner-take-all, especially in a society still defining its new identity, and stops grabbing authority and starts earning it. – New York Times service