Open political battle breaks out over Egypt’s Constitution
By Abayomi Azikiwe
December 6, 2012
Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians have been demonstrating on both sides
with regard to a draft constitution for the North African state. President
Mohamed Morsi, whose Nov. 22 edict increasing his political powers sparked mass
protests, has now announced a Dec. 15 date for a national referendum to approve
or reject the controversial document.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which is behind Morsi’s political party, and
the Salafist Muslim organizations form a majority in the government and have a
broad political base, which means the referendum would likely approve the new
On the other side, 18 left and liberal parties and coalitions, known as the
Revolution Salvation Front, plan a demonstration at the presidential palace on
Dec. 4 to express their opposition to the current process of constitutional
development as well as its content.
These two opposing sectors are in the streets. Another force operating
quietly is what the Egyptians call “the deep state,” made up of the
army — whose top officers own and control about 30 percent of
Egypt’s economy — the police and the court system. This deep state
represents the continuation of Hosni Mubarak’s repressive state, which
the revolution of January-February 2011 failed to remove even though it ousted
the U.S.-backed dictator.
The recent large demonstrations still are smaller than the giant nationwide
outpouring in 2011, which also included striking industrial workers and urban
poor who fought police and thugs and confronted the army to overthrow Mubarak.
The Morsi government has still not begun to meet this impoverished
sector’s urgent needs for economic security.
From the state apparatus, the judges, many of whom were appointed during the
Mubarak era, are the only ones who openly oppose Morsi’s attempt to limit
their powers. So far the generals and the police have not spoken out. The
generals’ history, their class position as big capitalists and their ties
to U.S. imperialism and the Pentagon place them as an irreconcilable enemy of
the workers and poor masses.
Morsi, the left and the judiciary
Morsi said his decree was aimed at the Mubarak forces still in the state
apparatus and claims these forces are working within the opposition. But the
secular and left groups see Morsi’s maneuvers as aimed at them.
The 18 left groups calling the Dec. 4 protest include the Constitution
Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Free Egyptians Party, the
National Front for Justice and Democracy, the April 6 Youth Movement, the
Democratic Front and the Kefaya Movement. In a Dec. 2 joint statement, these
opposition forces wrote, “The constitution project that Morsi wants to
put before a referendum is in fact a project for tying down the political,
civil, social and economic freedoms of Egyptians.” (Ahram Online, Dec.
Morsi’s decree has prompted resignations from the Constituent Assembly
— charged with drafting the new constitution — by representatives
from secular parties as well as Coptic Christians, along with individual human
rights activists like Wael Khalil and Seif El-Islam, who oppose “the rush
to finalize the [constitution].”
There have been conflicting reports over whether the judicial institutions
will oversee the upcoming referendum. Supporters of Morsi held a demonstration
outside the highest court on Dec. 2. Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters
shouted, “We will not leave!” while members of the Judicial Council
were reportedly denied admittance to the building. The judges were slated to
render a decision on the constitutionality of the Dec. 15 referendum.
Nonetheless, further reports on Dec. 3 said that the Supreme Judicial
Council would monitor the Dec. 15 referendum. A Supreme Committee for
supervising the elections was formed despite earlier reports.
President Morsi also received support from the Salafist Nour Party, whose
representatives said the Dec. 15 referendum was “the right move for
achieving stability in Egypt.” (Ahram Online, Dec. 2)
The Salafist Nour Party won the second largest bloc of votes after the
Muslim Brotherhood-aligned Freedom and Justice Party in the parliamentary vote.
These two parties have organized the demonstrations supporting the upcoming
vote on the draft constitution.
Egypt has seen a precipitous decline in foreign exchange earnings over the
last two years due to anti-government unrest and the impact of the overall
world economic crisis. Tourism, which accounts for 7 percent of the gross
domestic product, a mainstay of the economy, has declined by at least 30
percent. Unemployment among the youth is estimated to be in excess of 50
percent.(U.S. News & World Report, Oct. 5)
Mounting foreign debt has resulted inPresident Morsi’s attempts to
borrow money from the European Union, the World Bank, the International
Monetary Fund and the Gulf states that are closely aligned with Washington.
Dependence on these funds will push Egypt’s domestic and foreign policy
in a pro-imperialist direction.
Various left and liberal parties have mobilized hundreds of thousands
of people while calling for the cancellation of the draft constitutional vote
and the reopening of negotiations surrounding the nature and character of the
political transformation process.
Nevertheless, the vote and its outcome will not resolve the burgeoning
economic crisis for 80 million Egyptians, and especially for the poorest
Egyptians. Nor will it determine if the Egyptian government and army remains
tied to U.S. imperialism’s pro-Israel policy while the Egyptian
population overwhelmingly is in solidarity with Palestine.