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Beyond Egypt's referendum: Morsi's quarrels

By next Sunday, Egypt President Mohamed Morsi will face more perplexing challenges, way beyond a controversial 'Yes' vote on a contentious constitution

Dina Ezzat, Tuesday 18 Dec 2012
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Egypt's president Mohamed Morsi (Photo: Reuters)
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Families of some of the demonstrators killed during recent clashes at Cairo's presidential palace, which broke out over the opposition of presidential political decisions, are pursuing lawsuits against the president, according to some relatives of those killed.

According to the relatives of those killed, President Mohamed Morsi is to be accused of having incited the killing of the demonstrators by failing to provide the legally due security for peaceful protesters and calling upon "armed supporters to attack the peaceful demonstrations." The families of the deceased are planning to make a collective announcement on the matter soon.

A long process of litigation is certainly expected. However, as they have been told by the lawyers, the case is legally sound.

Just as the court of law had indicted ousted President Hosni Mubarak for being responsible for the killing of innocent demonstrators in Cairo's Tahrir Square and elsewhere across the nation during the early days of the 25 January Revolution, Morsi could be indicted too after 10 were killed during the clashes on 5 December.

This litigation is immediately discrediting for the image of the first ever freely elected president of the nation, who over and over vowed to "rightfully avenge" the killing of demonstrators during the 25 January Revolution but has not yet lived up to this promise.

Political and legal activists said that this series of lawsuits and the other lawsuit initiated by rights activist and former presidential runner Khaled Ali against the referendum on the draft constitution, whose second phase is due Saturday, for the violation of relevant legal procedures are not going to be the worst part of the hardship that Morsi will face.

At risk, according to the same activist, is Morsi’s constitutional declaration issued mid-August, by which he reshuffled the head of the military and annexed the legislative powers that they had gained by virtue of a previous constitutional declaration on the eve of the end of the presidential elections.

Once the High Constitutional Court (HCC) convenes at its headquarters, it would examine this declaration upon a legal procedure that had demanded its opinion on it.

"The rules are clear. Morsi, his aides and the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood know very well that the immediate verdict of the High Constitutional Court would be to annul this mid-August declaration," said a lawyer, who is closely following the matter.

The consequences would certainly suspend the president’s acquisition of the legislative power, which would go in any case to the overwhelming Islamist Shura Council (the parliament's upper chamber), following the adoption of the constitution.

What this verdict could also do once issued is to annul the membership of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF). This could mean that the former head of SCAF and his second man, Hussein Tantawi and Sami Anan, could be in theory brought back to their jobs.

"In theory, maybe, but in fact neither men want to go back to where they were; had they wanted this they would have encouraged a sizeable, if not overwhelming signs of contempt against their abrupt and un-dignifying removal by Morsi in the summer," said a military source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He added that "the two men declined any songs of protest from within the army because they thought it would be catastrophic to divide the army."

Morsi is already at odds with the High Constitutional Court. His supporters have been on, more than off, besieging the headquarters of the court. The supporters, thus, prohibited the court members from entering its halls to examine the mid-August constitutional declaration.

Two days ago, a close advisor to the president issued a press release in English only. The statement circulated among foreign press offices in Cairo to slam the judges of the HCC as "part of a conspiracy" against the state.

A firm, if not equally slamming statement came from the HCC, with some of its members vowing on air to "change the face of politics in Egypt sooner rather than later upon the very text of law."

Morsi’s quarrel with the judiciary has been ongoing for a while. Last October, he tried but failed to remove then prosecutor-general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud.

Mahmoud was assigned by ousted President Hosni Mubarak and is predominantly seen among all revolutionary quarters, Islamists as well as liberals, to be "responsible for the series of acquittal verdicts" issued for suspects in the killing of peaceful demonstrators, due to the "failure of the prosecution to adequately provide necessary evidence for indictment."

Last November, the presidency announced a constitutional declaration by which the president removed the prosecutor-general and assigned another one in violation of the normal regulations. Only on Monday, this newly assigned prosecutor-general, Talaat Abdullah, bowed to the forceful rejection of the judiciary and said he would resign, following the adoption of the constitution early next week.

Morsi had already incurred the wrath of judges after effectively eliminating the powers of the judiciary and removing the prosecutor-general. Judges had for the most part refrained from observing the vote in the referendum, thus giving room for speculation and many accusations over alleged rigging.

However, it is one thing for Morsi to be at odds with the judges; another is to lose the already limited sympathy he has from the army, and the even more volatile support that he has been able to solicit from the police and the intelligence – beyond the formalities of duty-bound performance.

The recent fall-out between Morsi and his minister of defence, according to informed presidential and army sources, should not be underestimated. 

Last week, Morsi tried repeatedly and finally managed to fudge a call for a national dialogue that the minister of defence had called for, with the support of the minister of interior.

The minister of defence offered to host with the presence of, no other than, the president himself and the leadership of the opposition. The latter had earlier declined an on-air invitation from Morsi to join a national dialogue meeting that convened two weeks ago against a backdrop of violent clashes, Morsi's decision to end the controversial November constitutional decree and offering the constitution for a referendum that started on 15 December, despite the many appeals for patience to allow for a more reconciliatory draft.

On Monday evening, it was the deputy minister of defence and not the minister of defence who was received by the president to review the role of the army in providing security in cooperation with the police during the referendum.

For his part, the minister of defence, who is known to be a conservative religious man but with no direct affiliation to any political Islam group, was issuing the second set of statements in less than two weeks to warn against Egypt's continued political division.

"I cannot say there is a rift, but I can for sure say that the relations are not at their best between the president and his minister of defence,” said an informed source.

Coming at a time of hard and worsening economic difficulties, these challenges are coupled with the disturbing lack of public support, as the approval rate for the president are said to be sharply dropping by the assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The decline of Morsi's approval within the Muslim Brotherhood is even more troubling for the president, who has given the best part of his adult life as a dedicated member of the oldest political Islam group in the country and the region.

Furthermore, according to the assessment of Western diplomats in Cairo, Morsi is losing credibility among his Western allies – more so among European nations than the United States – who had hoped he would successfully create a solid national alliance that could have set the tone for a successful Islamist ruling.

One European source said that his influential capital is having "intense talks" with Washington now over the need to send a firm message to Morsi that he needs to be more inclusive in his style of rule.

According to Hassan Abu-Taleb, a senior political analyst and commentator at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, Morsi is losing control and the animosity that he had once complained about from the previous state establishment is turning into a self-fulfilled prophecy.

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