A Contrast in Constitution-Making: Egypt and Tunisia
Just as Egypt was grabbing international headlines for negotiating a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas last week, the most populous Arab country suddenly saw its own domestic scandal. Egypt’s new president, Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mohammed Morsi, issued a power-grabbing constitutional declaration that excluded his decisions from judicial oversight. In response, thousands of protesters took to the streets in Cairo, accusing Morsi of returning the presidency to a dictatorship.
To help calm the protests, the Constituent Assembly, the appointed body tasked with drafting the new constitution, hurriedly preparing its latest draft for a nation-wide referendum now scheduled for December 15. This rushed and confused process has only exacerbated the anger among citizens. The drama is only the latest back-and-forth in a constitutional drafting process gone wrong, as the country has been trying to find its way after the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
Egyptian Presidential Elections: The More The Merrier
Barely a year after the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak following massive demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Egypt’s fledgling democracy appears to have struck a new patch of turbulence this week amidst preparations for upcoming presidential elections in May. Former Egyptian Vice-President Omar Suleiman, often viewed to as a pivotal figure during the Mubarak regime, recently announced his intention to run for President. criticized the Muslim Brotherhood for failing to provide stability and seeking to monopolize power.
The Muslim Brotherhood, for its part, attempted to mollify critics following the decision of the Brotherhood’s chief financier, Khairat al-Shater to enter the presidential race as well. The Brotherhood’s FJP Party, which together with allies commands a majority in the new Egyptian Parliament, initially claimed that it would not field a candidate for the presidential election. However, the Brotherhood insists that it needs to field a candidate for President in order to prevent elements of the Mubarak regime from blocking reforms.
The Brotherhood also grew alarmed by the surge in popularity of the fundamentalist Salafi candidate for President, Hazem Abu Ismail. Ismail’s campaign has recently encountered its own share of difficulties as well. Election authorities have suggested that Ismail could be disqualified from the election since his mother possessed U.S. citizenship. Supporters of Ismail contend that this represents yet another attempt by the military authorities to tamper with Egypt’s democracy.
While numerous influential groups may have benefited from the events of the past week, the liberal youth movement that fueled the Tahrir uprising risks becoming politically isolated. Prior to the entrance of the FJP and Suleiman into the race, polls suggested that a moderate candidate, former Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa , remained in the lead. However, Moussa’s position following these abrupt shifts in the dynamics of the race remains unclear.
Transitions in Egypt
The protests that first began in Egypt ten months ago came from years of economic, social, historic and personal dissatisfaction with the Egyptian government. While the immediate target of these protests, President Hosni Mubarak, stepped down from a 30-year reign after only 18 days without the support of the military or the United States, instability in the country has continued. The United States has come down in favor of democracy, but it also has other considerations-including Egypt’s relations with Israel and the country’s short term stability
In the immediate aftermath of Mubarak’s overthrow, the people of Egypt turned to the military to ease the political transition for the new Egypt. However, the military’s harsh crackdowns and strict laws have led to doubts about its commitment to the revolution’s ideals, and on Friday, President Obama joined the civilian protesters in demanding that the military hand over power to a democratically elected civilian government. In its warnings to military rulers, the Obama administration has upheld civilian control as a defining component of the Arab Spring and demanded a real democratic transition as a prerequisite for American support.
Above: A concrete barricade in Cairo is sprayed with graffiti that reads “Freedom is coming.” The barrier blocks a street connecting Tahrir Square and the Interior Ministry
Courtesy of the New York Times
"A police action intended to roust a few hundred protesters out of Tahrir Square instead drew thousands of people into the streets on Saturday, where they battled riot police officers for hours in the most violent manifestation yet of the growing anger at the military-led interim government. Coming just nine days before the scheduled beginning of parliamentary elections, the clashes were the biggest here since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in February."
Courtesy of the New York Times.
“The revolution was beautiful, but nobody imagined the consequences.”
Egyptian tour guide Abu Ghaneima, remarking on the lack of visitors to his country’s major tourist sites, once crowded with foreigners but now largely empty due to the January revolution. With the initial focus of the revolution now fragmented into smaller, disparate movements and the caretaker government delaying elections, the nation is losing patience—and confidence. From the New York Times, “Egypt’s Tourism Suffers as Tourism Stalls.”
"They want her to be Hillary Clinton, and that’s what she tries to be and wants to be […] But the states have to give her the tools and the mandate. If they want her to be the Hillary Clinton of Europe, give her the power."
-A senior aide to Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, responds to criticism that Ms. Ashton responded to slowly to uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. From the New York Times.
Facebook and Twitter are thus nothing more (and nothing less) than new tools for this older, democratic function: the distribution of information across networks; the communicative action between citizens; the creating of shared meaning. This is the hope that the Internet can bring to a repressed society like Egypt: not the killing of kings in Tahrir, but the building of a civic community once the square’s been emptied out.
-Max Novendstern of Harvard for ACE. From the Egypt Forum (continued).
Some might argue that, quite simply, the legitimacy and structure of government action will ultimately topple the actions of a loosely built cybernetwork of activists…Yet the [Egyptian] government’s actions were unsustainable, costly, and temporary. Even after the regime used their “kill switch” to take the country offline, people accessed the Internet through smart phone services and international service providers.
-Christiana Renfro for ACE
The Alliance of College Editors (ACE) is hosting an interesting discussion, lead by writers from colleges around the country, about the situation in Egypt. Read their posts, here, here, and here.
More to come.