Monday, November 26, 2012

What in the world is going on in Egypt?

A decree giving President Morsi sweeping powers was announced last Thursday, sparking nationwide protests and a nearly 10 percent drop in the Egyptian stock exchange.  The decree removed the the prosecutor general, who was disliked by revolutionaries for his failure to secure any real punishment against former regime figures and security forces who attacked protesters over the last few days.  Morsi had tried to remove him months ago, but the prosecutor general refused to resign and Morsi had to embarrasingly publically retreat.  It also reopened investigations and prosecuttions into these cases "according to the law of the protection of the revolution."

Protestors hold a banner depicting President Morsi as a pharaoh following his Thursday decree.

These announcements were the honey to the poison. The decree declared no institution can dissolve the upper house of parliament or the Consitituent Assembly, tasked with writing the new consitution and the focus of much revolutionary ire for being non-representative of Egyptian society and over-representative of Islamists.

Most concerning, he announced his declarations, laws, and decrees above the reach of the courts until a new lower house of parliament is instated. This decree in effect removed the last check on his power, as the legislature was already disbanded, and consolidated it all under the executive branch.  He also annouced "the president may take the necessary actions and measures to protect the country and goals of the revolution."

What does that mean? No one really knows. But the fear is that Egypt's first freely-elected president and member of the Muslim Brotherhood is turning into a new Mubarak, only now with the aim of Islamicizing Egypt. 

The swift and angry response seems to have caught Morsi off guard.  Thousands took to the streets on Friday, and there have been sporadic protests and street battles across the country ever since.  Ikhwan headquarters were burned in cities across the country, and in a bad omen of things to come, an Ikhwan supporter was killed yesterday.

All those who are reading this at home and became worried for me, let me emphasize that I have not seen any of this and have been able to go about my daily life without even any real hints of what's going on downtown.  What has happened thus far has been centralized and contained. 

The country is now deeply divided. News reports mention a deep suspicion between Islamists and everyone else. I've seen the division on a much closer scale.  Thursday night and Friday my friends posted statuses on Facebook blaming those who voted for Morsi for the current crisis.  Things like "F*ck all of you who voted for Morsi, this is what you get, I hope you burn in hell." Some of my revolutionary friends refuse to talk not only to their friends who are Ikhwani, but also those who voted for Morsi as an alternative to presidential candidiate Ahmed Shafiq, seen as a remnant of the former regime. This anger is dangerous. The countries which were best able to rebuild after civil wars and strife are those which vowed to move forward and not ostricize opponents, which only makes divisions permanent and pushes them further to radicalization.

The division makes me sad, first and foremost. People aren't identifying as Egyptians, or seeing those who don't agree with them as not "real" Egyptians. I really appreciate now how despite how much people disagree politically at home, Democrats and Republicans, Tea Partiers and Tree Huggers are still able to have relatively civil discussions, if not be friends. Once the dialogue is lost, it's really difficult to reopen it. 

Dialogue now is not even an option for many.  Tomorrow afternoon Ikhwan supporters are gathering outside Cairo University and anti-Ikhwan are gathering at Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque, near my office actually, and marching to Tahrir.  Ikhwan initiatlly were going to gather at Abdeen Square, down the iconic Mohamed Mahmoud Street from Tahrir, but smartly relocated to avoid clashes.  Some of my friends are attending the march with light arms and face protection in the event authorities use birdshot, which blinded many last year. 

The atmosphere is tense. Morsi has not yet backed down in the face of severe international and domestic pressure.  He has signaled a willingness to negotiate, calling his edict "temporary" and promising "guarantees against monopolizing the fateful decisions of the homeland in the absence of the parliament." The Justice Minister, respected by both sides, is attempting to negotiate between Morsi and the judges.

Inshallah tomorrow will just be opposing and simultaneous demonstrations, a show of force for both sides, with scattered clashes. 

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