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Feeling Confused About Egypt? You're Not Alone

Posted: 12/11/2012 12:02 pm

Since Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi announced his constitutional decree on Nov. 22, there has been dramatic unrest in Cairo. Morsi's supporters and opponents have been staging their own demonstrations and clashing violently in the streets.

Morsi's decree gave him sweeping powers and was meant to stop the judiciary from disbanding the constituent assembly, which, stacked with Islamists, was writing the draft of the constitution. Morsi's initial decree extended the drafting time by two months. When it appeared that judges would challenge Morsi further, the constituent assembly finished writing the constitution in a one-day marathon session.

Egyptian people are historically proud of their (albeit decaying) institutions. Unhappy with how the constitution was rushed through and forced upon them, opposition forces came together and demanded Morsi repeal the constitutional declaration and postpone the referendum.

At that point, the army, which had been trying to stay out of the limelight since Morsi's election, weighed in and delivered an ominous warning: If parties don't "dialogue," then "dark days" may be ahead. If this were a veiled threat of a coup d'état, it would pit the army against Morsi supporters, who, by all accounts, can come out in the hundreds of thousands when called upon.

Still calling for a referendum on Dec. 15, Morsi met with a second tier of less-prominent opposition forces this weekend and rescinded (or, in actuality, just reworded) the controversial presidential decree. So, now Egyptians have a choice: to vote "Yes" to the constitution in the Dec. 15 referendum and hope that the sloppily worded, patronizing, and, at times, overly ambitious constitution will undergo amendments, or to vote "No" -- a choice that the president says would lead to another election in two months for a new constitutive assembly that would write another draft constitution.

These are difficult options to stomach for most Egyptians. The people are disheartened by how their country has quickly swayed into chaos and lawlessness, and by the endless announcements of revolutionaries and government supporters.

To make matters worse, an opposition movement called the National Salvation Front -- a group comprised of prominent figures like Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa -- has called for Morsi to postpone the referendum. Morsi and his supporters have accused the opposition of being a front for foreign intervention, comprised of cultural and economic elites that are in cahoots with the media to bring down the democratically elected Islamist government. To Morsi, the constitutional referendum is the chance to bring true democracy to Egypt and rid the upper political ranks of secular elites.

In contrast, most of Morsi's opponents want nothing less than his (figurative) head. Their passionate calls for the removal of former president Hosni Mubarak have been redirected completely to calls for Morsi to leave. Morsi's speech to the nation was another patronizing and demoralizing experience for the people who threw out Mubarak and vowed never to accept another pharaoh. Topping off the instability that Morsi's moves have provoked is a looming domestic economic crisis, all of which has left Egyptians confused, frustrated and furious.

My favourite tweet from an Egyptian activist over the weekend sums up the intense uncertainty many are feeling: "if you are not confused about Egypt, then you are not paying enough attention."

Egypt is in turmoil and circumstances have pushed all sides to extreme and hardened positions. Nothing will convince Morsi that the referendum should not be held, and nothing will convince opposition groups to renew their faith in his leadership.

The country is in turmoil and polarized by two interpretations of what ought to be the future of Egypt, leaving Egyptians to choose between despair and disorder -- hardly a real choice.

*An earlier version of this article appeared on the Canadian International Council's site OpenCanada.org.

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  • Egyptian protesters chant slogans at rally in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012. Egyptians flocked to Cairo's central Tahrir square on Tuesday for a protest against Egypt's president in a significant test of whether the opposition can rally the street behind it in a confrontation aimed at forcing the Islamist leader to rescind decrees that granted him near absolute powers. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

  • Egyptian protesters attend an opposition rally in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012. Thousands flocked to Cairo's central Tahrir square on Tuesday for a protest against Egypt's president in a significant test of whether the opposition can rally the street behind it in a confrontation aimed at forcing the Islamist leader to rescind decrees that granted him near absolute powers.(AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

  • A masked Egyptian protester takes cover during clashes with security forces near Tahrir square, where an opposition rally has been called for to voice rejection of President Morsi's seizure of near absolute powers, in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012. Egyptian protesters and police clashed in Cairo on Tuesday just hours ahead of a planned massive rally by opponents of the country's Islamist president demanding he rescind decrees that granted him near-absolute powers.(AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

  • Tens of thousands people take part in a mass rally against a decree by President Mohamed Morsi granting himself broad powers on November 27, 2012 at Egypt's landmark Tahir Square in Cairo. Clashes between police and protesting youths erupted near Cairo's Tahrir Square, ahead of the demonstration. The planned demonstrations come a day after Morsi stuck by his controversial decree in a meeting with judges that was aimed at defusing the worst political crisis since his election in June. (GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • An Egyptian protester attempts to throw back a tear gas canister on November 27, 2012 during clashes with the Egyptian Riot Police in Omar Makram street, off Tahrir Square in Cairo. Clashes between police and protesting youths erupted on Tuesday near Cairo's Tahrir Square, ahead of a mass rally against a decree by President Mohamed Morsi granting himself broad powers. The planned demonstrations come a day after Morsi stuck by his controversial decree in a meeting with judges that was aimed at defusing the worst political crisis since his election in June. (GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • An Egyptian protester blows a stadium horn as he gestures at a cordon of security forces near Tahrir square, where an opposition rally has been called for to voice rejection of President Morsi's seizure of near absolute powers, in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012. Egyptian protesters and police clashed in Cairo on Tuesday just hours ahead of a planned massive rally by opponents of the country’s Islamist president demanding he rescinds decrees that granted him near-absolute powers. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

  • Egyptian security forces arrest a protester during clashes near Tahrir square in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012. Egyptian protesters and police clashed in Cairo on Tuesday just hours ahead of a planned massive rally by opponents of the country’s Islamist president demanding he rescinds decrees that granted him near-absolute powers.(AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

  • An Egyptian protester hurls a stone during clashes with security forces, unseen, in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012. Egyptian protesters firebombed one of the offices of satellite broadcaster Al-Jazeera on Wednesday and attacked a police chief who tried to negotiate an end to three days of violent protests in central Cairo.(AP Photo/Ahmed Gomaa)

  • An Egyptian protester drags a security barrier during clashes outside the country's high court in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012. Egypt’s highest body of judges slammed on Saturday a recent decision by the president to grant himself near-absolute power, calling the move an “unprecedented assault” on the judiciary. The statement from the Supreme Judicial Council came as hundreds of demonstrators clashed with police outside a downtown Cairo courthouse. They were protesting the Thursday declaration by President Mohammed Morsi that courts could not overrule his decrees until a new constitution and parliament is in place, several months if not more in the future. (AP Photo/Mohammed Asad)

  • Egyptian protesters gather outside the country's high court in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012. Egypt’s highest body of judges slammed on Saturday a recent decision by the president to grant himself near-absolute power, calling the move an “unprecedented assault” on the judiciary. The statement from the Supreme Judicial Council came as hundreds of demonstrators clashed with police outside a downtown Cairo courthouse. They were protesting the Thursday declaration by President Mohammed Morsi that courts could not overrule his decrees until a new constitution and parliament is in place, several months if not more in the future. (AP Photo/Mohammed Asad)

  • Egyptian protesters gather in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. President Mohammed Morsi edicts, which were announced on Thursday, place him above oversight of any kind, including that of the courts. The move has thrown Egypt's already troubled transition to democracy into further turmoil, sparking angry protests across the country to demand the decrees be immediately rescinded. The banner in Arabic, top center, reads, "members of the Muslim Brotherhood are not allowed." (AP Photo/Ahmed Gomaa)

  • An Egyptian protester shouts political slogans against President Mohamed Morsi's decree granting himself broad powers as others wave their national flag during a demonstration in Cairo's Tahrir Square on November 27, 2012. The planned demonstrations come a day after Morsi met with the country's top judges in a bid to defuse the crisis over the decree, that has sparked deadly clashes and prompted judges and journalists to call for strike. (GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • An Egyptian protester recovers from tear gas inhalation on November 27, 2012, during clashes with the Egyptian Riot Police in Omar Makram street, off Tahrir Square in Cairo. Clashes between police and protesting youths erupted near Cairo's Tahrir Square, ahead of a mass rally against a decree by President Mohamed Morsi granting himself broad powers. The planned demonstrations come a day after Morsi stuck by his controversial decree in a meeting with judges that was aimed at defusing the worst political crisis since his election in June. (GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A group of protesters shout slogans against Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi during a demonstration in front of the White House in Washington on November 26, 2012. Morsi stuck by a controversial decree granting him sweeping powers, on the eve of planned nationwide rallies to protest the move, in the worst crisis since his election in June. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A group of protesters shout slogans against Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi during a demonstration in front of the White House in Washington on November 26, 2012. Morsi stuck by a controversial decree granting him sweeping powers, on the eve of planned nationwide rallies to protest the move, in the worst crisis since his election in June. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)


 

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