By Jamal Kanj
Egyptian democracy is alive and well. That is about the only positive observation on the current pro and counter demonstrations in major cities across the country.
President Mohammed Mursi’s precarious pronouncement on November 22 granting himself supreme powers instigated the current crisis.
His far-reaching decrees came on the heels of a Gaza ceasefire, which accorded him public approbation and international acclamation for averting another Israeli land invasion into the overcrowded, besieged Strip.
Whether the opportune timing was by design or pure luck, Mursi has miscalculated the public’s sentiment and vigilance. Egyptians long ago shattered the wall of fear in toppling their last dictator and are determined never to revert to tyranny.
In his five-point doctrine, Mursi included two popular decrees dealing with the old regime to camouflage three diktats giving him the authority to do whatever is needed to safeguard “the revolution”.
But whose revolution is he referring to? Is it the Muslim Brotherhood’s vision or the collective idea that ended decades of dictatorship?
Needless to say, the Brotherhood was a”Johnny-come-lately” to Tahrir Square – the cradle of the revolution Mursi is claiming to protect.
Besides, having been the Brotherhood’s second option (their first choice was disqualified), many in the opposition fear that Mursi is a figurehead for a shadowy government run by the party.
This was one of several reasons protesters rejected outright the president’s assertion that his decrees were short-term, “expiring with the successful referendum on the new constitution”.
The temporary phase was qualified by a “successful referendum”, which could last as long as needed or until a new constitution was certified.
Egyptians have lived for more than five decades under dictatorships with special extraordinary powers to protect a different “revolution”. In fact, they endured three decades of “temporary” emergency rule – ending only with the departure of Hosni Mubarak.
The timing of Mursi’s sweeping power grab, just a week after the withdrawal of secularists and Christians from the Islamist-dominated Constitutional Assembly, is also of concern.
Following his speech, the new constitution was slated for completion by early spring. Then magically the assembly completed a draft after a nine-hour marathon meeting less than a week later and a referendum was scheduled for December 15.
By eviscerating and freezing the judicial branch of the government, Mursi was pre-empting impending jurisdictional review of the work of the assembly.
This week his supporters blocked defiant Supreme Constitutional Court judges from entering their chambers. The court was scheduled to adjudicate on the legitimacy of the Islamist-dominated assembly on Sunday.
Opposing the president’s dictatorial measures include a wide ranging coalition of progressive parties, most of the presidential candidates and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei.
The protesters are afraid Mursi is leaving them with one of two options: an Islamist-tinged constitution or a “temporary” dictatorship.
It is indisputable that the Brotherhood’s candidate won fair and square more than 50 per cent of the public vote in the landmark presidential election. The vote was not, however, an endorsement for the party to design an unscrupulous system intended to halt the evolution of Egyptian democracy.
To preserve the people’s achievements, a sustainable democracy must be inclusive, all citizens should be empowered to influence change and leaders should be elected on a rotational basis.
Mursi must choose between being a president of all of Egyptians or a deputy for a shadowy party dictatorship.
The protesters are now demanding a reversal of the latest dictatorial declarations. If not resolved soon, Mursi could face being stripped of his title through a presidential recall.
– Jamal Kanj (www.jamalkanj.com) writes a weekly column on Arab issues and is the author of “Children of Catastrophe,” Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. (This article was first published by the Gulf Daily News newspaper.)