Egypt’s round two

Egyptian protesters stand outside the burning office of the Muslim brotherhood in Ismailia, Egypt, on December 5, 2012. (AFP PHOTO / STRINGER)

For anyone who might have missed the Egyptian uprising the first time around, there is no cause for concern, because round two has begun in earnest.

In one sense, Egypt has begun to bear a strong resemblance to Lebanon and its sharp split between two political camps, which took their names from rival demonstrations in Downtown Beirut in 2005.

Back then, the two groups rallied en masse in the same location, but at different times. But in Egypt, Tahrir Square in Cairo is now seeing the rivals conduct a near-daily battle over the same turf.

President Mohammad Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood have only themselves to blame for the depressing chain of events. Mursi was understandably overjoyed to see the Brotherhood, which suffered from decades of repression under the old regime, emerge victorious in the presidential contest.

But he and his aides apparently forgot, or chose to forget, how they came to power.

Only a quarter of the electorate actually supported him, because around half of the eligible voters didn’t bother to show up. Moreover, Mursi obviously benefited from the votes of many people who rejected the rival candidate, Ahmad Shafiq, a symbol of the old regime, and did not support the Brotherhood.

But these are ordinary aspects of any multi-candidate electoral process. The difference is that in Egypt, the country was embarking on a new path, as it grappled with drafting a Constitution for the post-Mubarak era. As anti-Mursi protesters have repeatedly said, it was they – and not the tardy Brotherhood – who sparked the 2011 Tahrir uprising in the first place.

Under such circumstances, consensus is not a luxury – it is an absolute necessity to guarantee stability.

Mursi and his party failed to heed the warning signs, such as when liberals and Copts pulled out of the committee tasked with drafting the new Constitution. An elected government might face substantial opposition in pushing through a law, and stick to its position.

But when the matter involves the bedrock of the entire legislative system, simple majorities are no way to rule. Despite all of the pleas for Mursi to reconsider, the government stubbornly plowed ahead, setting a mid-December date for a referendum on the Constitution.

The government was already treading on thin ice, due to Mursi’s cavalier treatment of the country’s judges and their objections to decrees granting him wide powers.

Three advisers to the president resigned Wednesday, and still no compromise was in the offing. It was also disappointing to see Egypt’s highest religious authority, Al-Azhar, issue a bland statement calling for restraint, instead of acting decisively to head off a crisis.

The only way to bring Egypt back from the brink of collapse is a sincere effort to achieve compromise, and accept the fact that when it comes to matters as weighty as a new Constitution, a razor-thin electoral majority means next to nothing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 06, 2012, on page 7.




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