I must admit that events over the past ten days have dissipated much of my optimism since the revolution.
My optimism primarily stemmed from my conviction that Mubarak’s formula (either oppression or ruin) is a wretched one that is unbecoming of us. As a people and a country, we can handle the challenges of the revolution and the institutions we built in our modern times – the police, army, judiciary, press, universities, unions and state bureaucracy – may require restructuring, but they are solid and can withstand the rigours of the revolution.
I also believed that we are capable of handling our two most challenging obstacles: how to eject the military from politics and the need to include the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in the political process. I am adamant that the brass are much weaker than they appear, and their normal and proper place is in their barracks not managing the political process.
As for the Brotherhood and other political Islam groups, I believe – despite my strong doubts that these groups have solutions for the country’s intractable problems – that it is more constructive and better for our society to include them in the political process.
The strong base on which I built my optimism is my conviction that what gathers all of us –Muslims and Christians alike– are bigger than our divisions and the harmony we achieved as a society over the past two centuries is a genuine accomplishment we must uphold and cherish.
At the same time, I always felt that Egypt is generous and embracing of us all without oppression, injustice or exclusion.
But since President Morsi issued his constitutional declaration, I find myself losing much of my optimism and am becoming concerned about the stability of our country more than at any previous time since the revolution.
My concerns do not only stem from the serious violations of law and legtimacy that this declaration represents, but also the debates and discussions that followed and ones I participated in about this serious crisis with members of political Islam such as the Brotherhood, Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and Salafists.
These discussions revealed that the differences that divide us are far greater than I thought, and that the current crisis and how the president is handling it deepens these rifts instead of closing them.
There are many points of contention that separate Islamists from their partners in the homeland who are liberals, secularists, leftists and others. I will focus on four points that I believe are the axis and the heart of this crisis regarding the nature of Egypt’s judicial system and how to reform it.
First, President Morsi – and by extension the Freedom and Justice Party and the Brotherhood – prioritises judicial reform and engaging on this controversial issue rather than first dealing with the security apparatus and restructuring the Ministry of Interior. Although there have been many assertions by human rights groups and political parties that democratic transition first and foremost requires restructuring the security sector, President Morsi – for his own political reasons – chose to begin with the judiciary.
Second, related to the above, this preference stemmed from the belief of the president and his group that it is vital to protect the Constituent Assembly (CA) and pass the constitution by any means possible, even if this constitutional declaration diminishes the legitimacy of the president and increases tensions in society, as well as violating the rule of law.
Although it is easy to poke holes in the proposed constitution, the nature of the constitution itself is a point of dispute between Islamists and civil forces. While Islamists believe the constitution is a significant document because it is an expression of society’s true and genuine identity, civil forces believe the premise of the constitution should be to protect citizens and guarantee their rights while curbing the powers of the state and blocking its dominance.
Third, in many of my discussions with political Islam advocates, I found that they have no regard for the heritage of Egyptian judiciary in modern times, and how quickly they are willing to sacrifice it since they view it as the outcome of two centuries of cultural invasion by the West. The West’s assault was assisted by an out-of-touch political and legal elite that are captivated by the West, and indifferent to its own jurisprudence heritage and sharia.
On the contrary, many civil forces believe Egypt’s judiciary is a key achievement in the country’s modern history that does not contradict sharia, because it is built on a hybrid of sharia and law in a creative and innovative way similar to many legal systems throughout Islam’s long history.
Also, although marred by some defects, these should not be dealt with the logic of “destroying the temple over everyone’s head” as the president has done in his showdown with the judiciary.
Fourth, these discussions also revealed the depth of the dispute between Islamists and civil forces about the manner of protesting or objecting to the president’s declaration. Islamists, especially the Brotherhood, believe that the president should be supported through this crisis. Despite the nature of disputes over the declaration, not one single Brotherhood member has uttered an objection to this problematic declaration or criticised it. Instead, the president is often described as a captain navigating rough seas and therefore his decisions should not be opposed or else we will all perish.
On the contrary, many democratic forces believe that disagreeing with the president – any president – and publically airing these differences is not only a healthy exercise but a necessary one, especially in times of crises. In crises, the president, any president, needs someone to confront him with what he does not want to hear and explain to him what he may not see or consider.
The president should not be compared to a captain but to a senior executive at a large and complex department who is subject to laws and regulations, assisted by his subordinates and aides, and accountable to everyone in his actions and decisions.
The dispute between the Islamists and their partners in the homeland on how to deal with President Morsi because of his manner of handling this crisis not only demonstrates the disparity in support for the president, but also reveals two very diverse approaches on how to deal with those in power and the need to prevent them from dominating society.
Despite these deep rifts between Islamists and civil forces that were uncovered in the recent crisis, I still believe that what unites us as Egyptians is far greater and deeper than what separates us. I also believe we must close this gap which threatens the stability of the country and increases divisions in society – most importantly, that the president must withdraw his noxious constitutional declaration and show he is willing to understand why so many are protesting his declaration.
Not everyone who objected to it is fulul (part of the former regime); in fact, the majority of them are revolutionaries who want this revolution to succeed and protect the unity of society.
No one is asking the president to abandon his predilections and beliefs; we are asking him to listen to everyone and pay attention more to the opinion of those who disagree than to the opinion of those who agree with him. We want him to act as the president of all Egyptians, not the representative of one segment only.
The writer is the head of History Department at the AUC.