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The Changing Face of Egypt

April 2, 2013
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With such a history, it is little wonder that many in Egypt were aghast when President Mohamed Morsi declared in November of 2012 that his presidential orders were beyond the scrutiny of the country’s judicial system. Any declaration, decision or law enacted by the president, he said, was final and not subject to appeal. His political opponents were quick to accuse him of declaring himself the “new pharaoh” and setting the nation back 2,000 years. Those aware of Morsi’s history, however, should not have been surprised.

The New Pharaoh

Mohamed Morsi Born in northern Egypt in 1952, Mohamed Morsi has the distinction of being Egypt’s first democratically elected president. But it is clear that his definitions of such words as “freedom” and “democracy” differ greatly from those of the West.

Morsi joined the Muslim Brotherhood in 1977 and served off and on as the spokesman for their Guidance Office. In 1978, he received a master’s degree from Cairo University. He immediately moved to the United States where he received his Ph.D. in engineering from the University of Southern California. In 1982, he began working as an assistant professor at California State University where he continued for nearly four years. Two of his five children were born in America during this time and are therefore US citizens. In 1985, Morsi and his family returned to Egypt.

In 2000, Morsi ran for parliament on an independent ticket. Under the leadership of then-president Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood was forbidden to nominate candidates for office, but Morsi’s end run was successful and he served as a Member of Parliament until 2005. Together with other Muslim Brotherhood leaders, he was arrested several times during Mubarak’s regime for various protests, spending seven months in jail in 2006 and a brief stint in 2010. In 2011, he founded the Freedom and Justice Party and declared himself its president. The party has since established itself as the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In 2012, he made history, not only by becoming Egypt’s first democratically elected president, but also as the first leader of the Arab Republic of Egypt to come from outside the military. The election marked a pivotal point in Egypt’s history, and though his winning margin was slim, his victory speech was downright inspiring. “We will face together the strife and conspiracies that target our national unity,” he said, promising to be a “president for all Egyptians.”

Optimism quickly dissolved, however, as Morsi immediately began usurping power, with several sweeping moves that fueled fears of an Islamist takeover. But an understanding of the events leading up to his election is necessary to truly grasp the implications for Egypt’s future.

Revolution Gone Awry

The so-called Arab Spring had direct serious impact on several Middle Eastern nations as well as an overall destabilizing effect on the entire region. In January of 2011, the Arab Spring hit Egypt with an 18-day revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship and left the military in charge. Suddenly, the country that was once considered a stabilizing presence in the area faced a very uncertain future. Protestors cried out for “freedom” and “democracy,” calling Mubarak a Zionist sympathizer and demanding a government unencumbered by Western influence.

With Mubarak’s resignation on February 11, the military took charge of the country. In March, they announced a provisional constitution as a stopgap measure until Egyptians could elect a parliament and appoint a special assembly to write a permanent constitution. Parliamentary elections were held from November 2011 through January 2012, and Islamist parties, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, did very well.

In March of 2012, parliament appointed a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution. Like the parliament itself, however, it was dominated by Islamists. The assembly was heavily criticized by Egyptians as well as some in the international community as failing to accurately represent the Egyptian people.

The ensuing constitutional crisis resulted in a period of civil unrest, violence, and political maneuvering that left Egyptians disillusioned and the rest of the world confused. The Egyptian Supreme Court suspended the first constitutional assembly and appointed a second that was purported to be less Islamist and more balanced. Many, however, disagreed, and parliamentary meetings were filled with walkouts, protests, and legal challenges. Non-Islamists boycotted the assembly and claimed it was attempting to subvert the interests of women, youth, and the Christian minority. Many demanded the dissolution of this assembly as well.

However, as part of Morsi’s pharaoh-like declaration on November 22, 2012, he ordered that the courts no longer had the right to dissolve the assembly. A short 7 days later, the assembly announced that the constitution was finished.

Torn by Violence

The Muslim Brotherhood is committed to the restoration of the Caliphate, a unified community of Islamic nations who will not only reclaim those areas that were occupied by the Caliphate of old, but will one day rule the world. During this entire period, flare ups of violent protest plagued Cairo and other major Egyptian cities. Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians filled the streets from their initial cry for the end of Mubarak’s reign to their refusal to accept Morsi as their new dictator. But violence on the part of the protestors was not the worst of it: it was estimated that dozens were dead, thousands injured, and dozens of others missing. Police and the military were accused of mass abuses; thousands of Coptic Christians were driven from their homes; and recent reports claim that hundreds of Egyptian children were detained, beaten, and tortured.

In January of 2012, Egypt’s defense leaders warned of the collapse of the state if the violence did not come to an end. Although opposition leaders called for a halt to protests and a unity government that would cross the ideological divide, President Morsi rejected the idea.

The Constitution

In December of 2012, Egypt’s new constitution was approved by voters in a two-stage referendum, replacing Mubarak’s charter of 1971. Although the constitution received support from 64% of voters, only 33% of the electorate participated. The following is a short comparison of key elements.

  • Both constitutions designate Islam as Egypt’s official religion and Islamic law, or Sharia, as the main source of legislation. They also obligate the state to “preserve” traditional family values based on Islam.
  • The new charter defines the principles of Sharia for the first time. It says those principles include “evidence, rules, jurisprudence and sources” accepted by Sunni Islam, Egypt’s majority religious sect.
  • The new document also gives unprecedented powers to Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s most respected religious school, by saying its scholars must be consulted on all matters relating to Sharia.
  • The new constitution significantly enhances the authority of the Egyptian armed forces as well. Unlike the previous charter, it demands that the defense minister be chosen from among the military’s top officers.
  • Senior officers also gain the authority to put civilians on trial in military courts, but only in cases where the alleged crimes “damage the armed forces.”
  • The 2012 constitution requires the creation of a National Security Council with a balance of senior officers and civilian Cabinet ministers, which is tasked with adopting strategies for establishing security, identifying security threats, and taking actions to address them.

The Future

Violence continues as the nation awaits elections that are to be held in April. In the meantime, a coalition in opposition to Morsi and his Islamist colleagues has been formed. They have declared that they will boycott the coming elections and have refused any dialogue with the ruling party. This all but ensures that the current Islamist regime will continue to dominate the legislature, having profound implications for the Egyptian people and the rest of the world as well.

The Freedom and Justice Party’s legal committee is working on a new draft to amend Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. The draft will allow for the Egyptian armed forces to gain full control over the Sinai Peninsula, a dramatic change from the current treaty which allows only police with light arms to guard borders with Israel.

Morsi has also made it clear that he intends to strengthen the bond between Egypt and other Islamist regimes. The red carpet has been rolled out for Ahmadinejad from Iran, and cooperative initiatives between the two nations are being planned. Morsi has stated that an alliance with Iran would help to create a “balance of pressure” in the region which is part of his ruling strategy.

Finally, the world must realize that the Muslim Brotherhood is committed to the restoration of the Caliphate, a unified community of Islamic nations who will not only reclaim those areas that were occupied by the Caliphate of old, but will one day rule the world. Cairo was once its headquarters, and President Morsi seems headed in that direction again.

“The Muslim Brotherhood will not allow anyone to impede our second Islamic conquest of Egypt. The second Muslim conqueror [of Egypt] will be Mohamed Morsi, and history will record it” (Mohamed Morsi as quoted in El Bashayer, May 2012).

Source: Rev. Cheryl Hauer, International Development Director

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