Sunday, 10 February 2013

Road to Recovery? Egypt on the Decline

by Andrew Jones

Anti-government protest in Tahrir Square
(source: 3 news.co.nz)
Hailed as the liberation of previously despotic states, the Arab Spring has been greeted with overwhelming support from Western observers. In spreading the seeds of democracy, though, these nations have faced a long road to recovery which in Egypt has now become a distant dream. If recovery and progress has been the key aim of the Arab Spring then Egypt provides the perfect example of the opposite. Democratic elections were held but the process appears to have lead to another Egyptian dictator, assuming infallible powers customary of previous leaders. Following violent demonstrations Egypt seems to be tearing itself apart once again, as curfews have been imposed in a number of cities. When interviewed for the BBC, a father whose son had been killed in the violence knew the individual responsible: “The president has my son's blood on his hands.” Responding to these accusations, Mohammed Morsi called for a “national dialogue.” Running parallel to these outward signs of an attempt to shy away from using force, Morsi declared curfews in cities throughout Egypt. Such political unrest surely shows a nation on the verge of destruction, rather than a nation slowly working towards recovery.

Where, then, has this unrest arisen from? Mohammed Morsi swept to power as leader of the Muslim Brotherhood following the Egyptian elections to decide the successor to the regime of Hosni Mubarak. Examining the rhetoric used during his own campaign, spectators were confident that his election would help Egypt on the step to democracy. Indeed Morsi condemned his predecessor, saying that “Egyptians will never bring back Mubarak through the window after they kicked him out of the door.” Other spectators who feared the formation of another theocracy were also largely soothed by Morsi's campaign policies. Morsi pledged to end “discrimination against any Egyptian based on religion, ethnicity or gender.” In assuming office, Morsi therefore had the majority of Egypt convinced of his democratic intentions. Only Morsi's support for the Committee to Resist Zionism, left some in the international community uncertain.

Rewriting the Constitution has been Mohammed Morsi's first major political test after assuming office. It is this simple act which has become a breeding ground for division amongst Egyptians. Morsi in December was able to gain enough support to pass the Constitution. This success, however, has come in the face of concerted attacks by a variety of different groups. Critics have claimed that the Constitution itself is undemocratic and too Islamist. Article 43 limits the right to practice religion and to establish places of worship to Muslims, Christians and Jews. These articles appears to discriminate against other religious groups within Egypt including atheists, Bahais and other irregular sects. Military courts have been allowed to retain the right to try civilians under certain circumstances. The ensuing referendum showed that Egyptians supported the Constitution, as 63.8% of voters approved its introduction. This has come at a backdrop of damagingly low turnout figures: “on a low turnout of 32.9% of Egypt's 52 million eligible voters.” Claims of voting irregularities have further undermined the success of the Constitution.

Though the Constitution has divided Egyptians, protests have instead focused upon the sweeping powers which Mohammed Morsi granted himself. Morsi's government released a statement in December stating that “the president can issue any decision or measure to protect the revolution.” It is this which has outraged Egyptians, causing many to take to the streets in protest. Morsi's spokesman continued, declaring that “constitutional declarations, decisions and laws issued by the president are final and not subject to appeal.” Since then unrest has broken out in a number of cities throughout Egypt. Rioting has so far left 52 individuals dead, and 1000's more injured as protesters have clashed with police on the streets of major cities. The response of the army has furthered fears that the military could re-intervene, returning the country to a Mubarak style dictatorship. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi assured that the army would remain a "solid and cohesive block" on which the state could rely. This comes as Egypt's new Constitution underwrites the armies judicial importance. With such widespread difficulty, it seems unlikely that Egypt will be heading in the direction of recovery any time soon.


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