Mohamed elBaradei, the former Director General of the U.N's IAEA nuclear inspection agency and now a spokesman representing the secular "National Salvation Front" in Egypt, has along with the other disparate opposition groups in Egypt urged talks with President Mohammad Morsi and the defense and interior ministers. The hope is to quell the protests and demonstrations against the Morsi led government that have rocked the country in the wake of Morsi's state of emergency decree and night-time curfews in the cities of Port Said, Suez and Ismailiya. He has since lifted the decree (which were largely ignored by the protesters) and supposedly is to let the provincial authorities handle their local situations.
In light of the ongoing turmoil, earlier this week Egypt's Defense Chief General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi warned of the "collapse of the state" if the protests continued, although there was no sign his comments indicated a military takeover of the country. He made his comments while Morsi was meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.
The crisis began in November when Morsi decreed himself new powers "sidestepping the courts freeing his office of judicial oversight" which set off the opposition protests believing Morsi's actions were reminiscent of the dictatorial rule under deposed President Hosni Mubarak.
From here, Morsi's decree was a pre-emptive move as the courts were about to disband the constitutional assembly writing the countries new constitution and thus preventing it from being put before the Egyptian voters (which was in fact written and approved in a referendum vote by the people).
But let us consider Morsi's plight since he was elected:
- All the members of Egypt's courts were holdover appointees from the deposed Mubarak regime. Months before Morsi's election the countries supreme court disbanded the elected people's parliament. They had openly opposed his election and were intent on curbing his powers.
- There was no written Constitution in place delineating the powers of the presidency when Morsi was elected President.
- As the former head of the Muslim Brotherhood suspicion was rampant from the beginning that he was just a puppet working for MB interests, and with his own personal religious beliefs was intent on establishing Sharia Law as well as opposed to secular minorities, Coptic Christians and others, even though he had vowed to respect the rights of all Egyptian people.
- Even when Morsi, soon after his election, forced the top the generals to resign (they were the unelected government rulers after Mubarak was forced to step down in February 2011), this move wasn't exactly celebrated by his opponents. Yet this action was necessary to firmly establish civilian control over the military.
- So with no parliament in operation, no constitution delineating government power sharing and limitations on presidential power, the role and powers of the military, a hostile judiciary openly opposed to him and all holdover appointees of former Mubarak regime, Morsi seemed between the proverbial rock and a hard place no matter what he did (or didn't do). He seemed always be perceived by his opponents as undercutting their revolution.
- So Morsi, although opening admitting he has made mistakes, remains the beleaguered president of a divided country.
- That considered, he remains Egypt's best hope for the immediate future. Why? He was elected fairly and is therefore the legitimate head of the government. A coups and a military takeover could throw the country into chaos and civil war.
There needs to be reconciliation and a dialogue between all the varied opposition and Morsi as Baradei has recommended.
All decrees of martial law, curfews and police confrontation with protesters need to be ended. The army, still admired as a positive force by most of the Egyptian people, needs to stay on the sidelines and in their barracks.
No countries transition from authoritarian rule to a free representative democracy is going to go smooth. And Egypt hardly has a history of democratic rule representative of the people.
So mistakes are inevitable and Morsi has made his share.
But as I have written previously, [i] I still believe Morsi deserves the benefit of the doubt as to his true intentions, believing he is an Egyptian first and will support and respect Egypt's minorities.
Hopefully Morsi will agree to a dialogue with representatives of the various opposition groups. But disbanding the government under Morsi should not be on the agenda.
New parliamentary elections are scheduled for April. They should occur as planned, be open and free and overseen by impartial neutral observers and certainly not seen as favoring the Muslim Brotherhood or any other group.
Hopefully the present turmoil and protests will subside if dialogue between Morsi and opposition representatives can come about and compromises of understanding and mutual respect along with the parliamentary elections in April go on as planned.
Egypt is the Arab world's most populous country and could show the way for others to follow if it can somehow manage to reconcile its internal divisions and not go the way of Syria into civil war.
[i] "Protests in Egypt over President Morsi's Decrees, The View from Here", by Dave Lefcourt, OPEDNEWS, November 25, 2012.