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A Stillborn Constitution for Egypt?
Morsi Runs the Gauntlet
by WAEL ISKANDAR

There’s a scene at the end of Braveheart when William Wallace was being tortured to death. At the height of torture the executioner paused and tried to convince Wallace to pledge allegiance to the king so that he may die a quick death. He said, “It can all end, right now. Peace. Bliss. Just say it. Cry out mercy.”

In pre-recorded televised interview, President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, made an offer to Egyptians similar to the one presented to Willam Wallace by the executioner. Morsi expressed he was not a dictator and that his absolute powers were temporary, will not be abused and that people should trust him. All you need to do is vote ‘yes’ to the constitution, and this nightmare of a constitutional declaration will all be over.

The constitutional declaration, in which Morsi gives himself dictatorial powers and immunized the Constituent Assembly,  aims to blackmail Egyptians into accept a flawed constitution that infringes on personal rights and cements military control over Egypt.

Despite the two month extension in the declaration for the Constituent Assembly to complete its work, the Constituent Assembly was to finish drafting the constitution in two days. This came after mass protests which the Muslim Brotherhood downplayed a la Mubarak regime.

The recent moves by Morsi, the FJP and the Muslim Brotherhood do nothing but muddle the current situation. Speculations arise over why these measures were taken and what happens next.

The constitutional declaration stated, “No judicial authority can dissolve the Constituent Assembly or the Shura Council.” However this does not mean that the constitutional court cannot rule on the constitutionality of the Constituent Assembly. The verdict is expected on 2 December. Morsi may have overlooked this loophole much like he underestimated people’s reaction to granting himself all powers unquestioned. If a verdict against the Constituent Assembly is delivered before its work is done, it would mean that the Constituent Assembly is unconstitutional but cannot be dissolved.

This race against time could mean that Morsi will call for a referendum on the drafted constitution before 2 December 2012 to pre-empt the court ruling. Talks about protesting this Saturday in Tahrir or elsewhere may well be a diversion. Another reason to rush and call for a referendum is to hamper street movement. The ballot box has been successful in November of last year to end mounting protests against the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) and a referendum may produce similar results.

Judges may be an obstacle because of their strong opposition against the recent constitutional declaration and lead to a partial strike. However one possibility is that Morsi will bargain with judges and make concessions to the judiciary and perhaps retract parts of the constitutional declaration in return for monitoring the referendum. If they do not accept, the referendum could very well not be monitored.

It is important to note that the president’s absolute powers may continue even after the referendum. Morsi may use his powers to target and eliminate major opponents of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). Ideally this can be done in the days between voting on the referendum and announcing the results. Once opposition is weakened, FJP can run in ‘free and fair’ elections and once again find ourselves in a perpetually oppressive state. In the unlikely case that people vote ‘No’ for the constitution, Morsi will retain his dictatorial powers and run the gauntlet once again.

The question remains whether such a scenario can be achieved. The way the constitution does not reflect the aspirations of the Egyptian people. Many integral forces that represent Egypt are absent including the churches. Sentiments of resentment to the Brotherhood rule are deepening as Morsi’s rule has alienated a broad spectrum of Egyptian society. Protests can escalate to violence and nationwide strikes. But even if the Brotherhood manage to pull off this stunt despite huge opposition, the one thing that is certain is that this constitution will be a stillborn.

Wael Iskandar works at Al-Ahram and writes a blog at  Notes From the Underground.