Protests against Islamist president dubbed “Egypt’s new Pharaoh”

December 6, 2012 by  
Filed under newsletter-world

Opposition to Egypt’s Islamist president is mounting, with large-scale protests against recent moves that have been denounced as “a coup against democracy”.

Anti-Morsi protestors fill the streets around Tahrir SquareEgypt, December 5, 2012: Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets, first against a decree issued on 22 November in which President Morsi granted himself sweeping powers, and again following the approval by his Islamist allies of a draft constitution that was rushed through on 30 November.

Opponents have accused Morsi of becoming a dictator. Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading figure in a new opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front (NSF), said Morsi and his allies were “staging a coup against democracy” and the president had “usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh”.

Demonstrators torched Muslim Brotherhood offices in several cities after the decree was announced. The ruling neutralises the judiciary, which was the last check on the president’s power, and means that Morsi’s decisions cannot be revoked by any authority in the country. The decree will remain in place until a constitution is passed by the electorate.

A referendum on the draft constitution is scheduled to take place on 15 December. The process in which the text was finalised in an all-night session was described as a farce by opponents. It was rushed through by an overwhelmingly Islamist body, with objections being stamped down; liberals and Christians had previously withdrawn from the assembly, complaining that Islamists were hijacking the process.

The vote on the draft was moved hastily ahead of the Supreme Constitutional Court’s ruling, which was meant to take place on 2 December, on the legitimacy of the body that drew up the text. The president’s supporters wanted to prevent any decision that would undermine the document’s validity. The court had dissolved the Islamist-dominated lower house of parliament in June.

The draft text strengthens the place of sharia, giving clerics an undefined role in ensuring that laws comply with its tenets. It prohibits “insulting or defaming all prophets and messengers” and gives the state a role in enforcing morals and “the traditional family”. Secular liberals and Christians fear that certain freedoms will be consumed by an Islamist agenda.

Amnesty International said that the text contains provisions that seem to protect rights but instead “mask new restrictions”. The human rights group said that women “have the most to lose” from the constitution, which “blocks the path to equality between men and women”.

Fervent demonstrations have been staged in Tahrir Square, with protestors shouting, “Constitution: Void!” and “The people want to bring down the regime.”

The NSF said that it “condemns the irresponsible act by the president of the republic in calling a referendum on an illegitimate constitution that is rejected by a large section of his people.”

President Morsi has argued that the constitution’s swift passage is necessary to get Egyptthrough a transitional period in which there remains no elected lower house of parliament. If it is approved, a new parliament should be elected within 60 days.

The Judges’ Club, a body that represents the country’s judges, has urged its members to refuse to preside over the vote in an effort to undermine its credibility.

Islamists fight back

Islamists are fighting back in defence of the president and the constitution. Following the rallies against him, they took to the streets in a show of solidarity. Brotherhood activists in several cities had distributed fliers calling for people to come out and “support Islamic law”.

And there have been reports that the Brotherhood is paying gangs to sexually assault women and beat men who are protesting against the president. Activists recorded 20 attacks in the last ten days of November.

Nearly two years on from the revolution that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt is once again looking dangerously unstable as the new president and his Islamist supporters betray many of the values and aspirations that inspired the tumultuous events of early 2011.

Hopes that regime change would lead to democracy and freedom are being shattered, and the prospects for those who do not want to see Egypt become an Islamist state are increasingly grim, unless the growing opposition movement can provoke a change of direction before it’s too late.

– barnabas team

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