Yonatan Mendel is a Journalist in Israel currently writing a PhD about Zionism and the Arabic language. In this piece she recounts the concerning use of language in the Israeli Media with regards to their national security.
This is true liberty, when free-born men,
Having to advise the public, may speak free,
Which he who can, and will, deserves high praise;
Who neither can nor will, may hold his peace:
What can be juster in a state than this?
- Euripid. Hicetid
It is difficult to overstate the importance that freedom of speech has on our lives; allowing anyone the opportunity to impugn, put forward or criticise an idea or status quo that was itself brought about through the medium of free speech and expression.
It is a bastion of our individuality in the ongoing tug of war between state-rule and self-rule. Countless philosophers and politicians have argued as to where to draw the line between the Leviathan’s sphere of influence and the individual’s existentialist boundaries. Across the pond, the libertarians are alive and well – albeit in the form of the intransigent Tea party movement – whilst in the ‘Emerald Isle’ the idea of privatisation brings thousands out in protest.
Yet they share common ground in their ability to speak out. It is this ability to speak out and protest, against what they consider injustices, which prevents our lives from continuing on in indifference. Its continued practice never allows the progress of society to fall into torpor and indolence. It is the right of everyone to speak their mind, however misinformed or seemingly foolish, without regard to their background or wealth. Every person can and should use this right. Our ability to criticise and enter into discussion is the fuel that keeps the engines of our civilisation progressing.
Moreover, it is not just the right of the person to speak but also the right of you and me to hear what they have to say, no matter how absurd. I have memories of being in Hyde Park passing Speaker’s Corner and listening to the men and women as they spouted, mainly, nonsensical themes to the surrounding crowds from upon their soapboxes. And while they were interpolating, mainly, frivolous topics, there could just as easily have been a person actively denying the holocaust, or proposing racist ideology.
The act of heretics, contrarians and iconoclasts, they who go against popular opinion and cherished views, have just as much, if not more importance in the arena of discussion precisely because they are proposing an unconventional opinion. Their ability to speak must be upheld. Their point may even contain a grain of historical truth, and if nothing else, will shake you from intellectual laziness and make you question why you hold the beliefs you do. Creating and understanding first principles is extremely important if we are to reliably draw from these axioms for future thought.
Have you ever wondered why you know the world is not flat? What would you say if you met with a young-earth creationist? Do not seek shelter in the false security of consensus.
Censorship persists in our lives, whether in more obvious forms, such as the archaic and immensely stupid blasphemy laws, or in the more subtle forms where one is passively forced into intellectual dishonesty. This is a fact that I see as a crying shame, breaking with Shakespeare’s well known maxim “To thine own self be true”, yet the vast majority of people would consent to the existence of some form of law curbing freedom of speech and expression.
They argue that it shouldn’t be legal to incite hatred, violence, crime and lies. But I put it to them that it is through these incitements that one learns the extent to which a group or individual is thinking. What we see when we hear them and what we hear when we see them is an invaluable source in unveiling a problem, that until then, may have simply festered in silence, until the pressure is released in ways greatly exacerbated and perhaps unmanageable.
Saying that homosexuals are sub-human, claiming that the wretched woman is incapable of doing a man’s job, or drawing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad are not crimes. But those that seek to withhold the rights of the LGBT community, pay women less, and seek beheadings as reaction must be held accountable. In the aftermath of the Prophet Cartoons saga in Denmark, almost every institution condemned the cartoons, but failed to condemn those that called for, and got, blood in revenge. Where are your priorities?
When someone utters an idiocy such as a homophobic rant, they must be ready for the barrage of counter arguments coming their way. But, nevertheless, they should be allowed to speak their idiotic statements. To quote Voltaire: “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.
If someone speaks an untruth, I have no doubt that it will be exposed as just that, but only by those willing to listen and argue against. In essence, I advocate the dialectic in search for the truth. The fear of offending or provoking should be a straitjacket that constrains no one but the reality of having to defend your position should give you moment’s pause.
It should be noted that being offended is a purely subjective act and there are those that are so happy to be affronted that they actively go out looking for it. The joke goes that when Dr Samuel Johnson completed his great lexicon, many delegations met with him to congratulate him. One of the delegations was a group of respectable women from London:
“Dr Johnson, we are delighted to find that you did not include any indecent or obscene words in your dictionary”.
“Ladies” replied Johnson “I congratulate you on being able to look them up”.
One must understand that the groups of those determined to be offended will go out of their way to satisfy their needs; willing to go through a treasure trove of English language to find some filthy words to fulfil some instinct, about which I dare not speculate…
And who, I wonder, is the person you would entrust with the impossible task of deciding what is ‘right’ for you or I? Who decides what can be said, read or thought? I do not know of a single person in the history of our species who would be suitable. Anyone who puts themselves forward to be the stalwart of censorship is by default, unsuitable. Their presence opens a most menacing doorway into an Orwellian dystopia of ignorance and doublethink.
Anyone claiming the right by knowing the mind of God is either a charlatan or an idiot. In the words of the Iranian polymath Omar Khayyam:
And do you think that unto such as you?
A maggot-minded starved, fanatic crew
God gave the secrets and denied it me?
Well, well, what matters it, believe that too.
Not long ago, a Somali comedian was murdered in cold blood. He has shot, point blank, in the head and the chest. His crime – poking fun at Islamist militants. Again, I reiterate, whenever someone says, writes or creates anything that you may deem heretical, they must be given extra protection by you and by the state, for they are adding something to the table that was previously missing.
This showcases the religious threat, but rather than have myself expatiate its horrors in the realms of free expression, criticism and emancipation, I shall instead offer the prose of Karl Marx in his Introduction to his Critique on Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. The first page is all that is necessary to understand the point, but continue if you so please, for who am I to tell you what you cannot read?
Freedom of the press is an obvious arm of free speech, with state-run papers being viewed, rightly in my opinion, with a hint of cynicism and a raised eyebrow whenever they critique domestic politics. But the strong arm of censorship runs deeper into the ‘Independent’ papers too, with their shareholders invariably having a say when a story threatens a conflict of (their) interest.
A few months ago, the Journalist syndicate in Cairo convened to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the appointment of the latest chief editors for the country’s state-run papers. They were aware that the government’s appointments to the 5 major state-run newspapers were almost certainly going to affect their freedom in criticising the ruling powers. The new editors would be foolish to so quickly turn on the powers that granted them such high positions. You do not bite the hand that feeds, as the saying goes.
It has always been the first practice of a dictator after they have secured the loyalty of the army to then secure the provisions of the Press, for this had always been the main source of knowledge for the proletariat. However, with the advent of the Internet another vast channel of free speech and knowledge opened up; yet another channel that the totalitarian needs to close.
One must only look to the last true dictatorship in Europe, Belarus, to see the evidence. It claims to run a free press, yet it is illegal to write anything slanderous about the despotic President, Alexander Lukashenko. Exactly who falls afoul of the critical-slanderous line is obviously up to Lukashenko’s cronies and there have been disappearances of several Belarusian journalists. It is this omnipresent threat that made Freedom House, a trusted independent monitor, call Belarus’ freedom of press and internet ‘not free’.
Stop someone from speaking; withhold something they have written; or bury something they have created and you are in essence making yourself a prisoner of your own actions. You are denying yourself in advance; you are creating a rod for your own back, for in the subjective realm of censorship, all is fair game when it comes to closing avenues of learning.
A year ago there were clashes on Mohamed Mahmoud St (the street I live on) which left over 60 people dead. They were fighting with the Central Security Forces (CSF – the paramilitary division of the police) after they were attacked while marching to the Ministry of Interior demanding greater state support for the families and victims of the revolution. After the fighting, walls were built blocking all the roads – bar one – to the Interior ministry.
Last Monday around a thousand people came to Mohammed Mahmoud for the anniversary and tried to take down one of the walls; they succeeded in taking down two of the 1 tonne blocks in the wall before the CSF intervened and pushed them back. They are still fighting with the CSF, who are on the roof of the French Elysee building (pictured above) throwing rocks and chairs and firing tear gas down at the protesters, who are replying in kind with rocks, fireworks and molotovs. Gaber Salah, a member of the 6th April Youth Movement was shot and killed in the first night of fighting.
On Wednesday, Morsi and Hillary Clinton managed to broker a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel and Morsi was showered in praise for his management of the situation. The international praise appears to have gone straight to his head as the very next day he made some constitutional declarations: he removed the Prosecutor General (an old Mubarak appointee who is widely despised and faces accusations of corruption and nepotism) by changing the terms of office; the retrial of everyone, including Mubarak, indicted with regards to the revolution; the immunity of the Constituent Assembly (currently facing mass walk-outs and legal hurdles due to it’s unrepresentative make-up) and Shura Council (the upper house of parliament) from judicial critique and disbandment; and most worrying of all his own immunity from any body, judicial or otherwise, in revoking any edict made from when he assumed the presidency up until a constitution and parliament exist.
Morsi has the mandate for these declarations because he revoked the interim declaration issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in June, thus transferring the authorities they had to the presidency, including absolute legislative authority (which the SCAF only had because the lower house was dissolved due to independent seats being given to Political Parties).
The response to Morsi’s new declarations was immediate. Mohammed El Baradei (Nobel Peace Prize winner and former head of the IAEA), Hamdeen Sabahi and Amr Moussa (ex-presidential candidates) as well as some other notable public figures, called on the people to march to Tahrir and protest this move, which was widely seen as an attempt at legitimizing the President’s role in the revolution. On the one hand he has pandered to the masses regarding the dismissal of the PG and the retrials, but on the other he has taken on massive new powers plus issuing the immunity of the Shura council (Islamist dominated) and the Constituent Assembly (Islamist dominated). As one particularly eloquent man in Tahrir put it, “he has given us honey and poison”.
Tens of thousands were in Tahrir Square last night chanting, “Morsi is Mubarak”, “Down with the regime”, “Morsi is the new Pharaoh”. They have now set up camp in Tahrir Square with about 20 tents erected when I last looked earlier today. There were clashes on Qasr El Aini St and Mohamed Mahmoud St last night between protesters and CSF with scores injured and some arrested. It should be noted that a fair number of people out there just want to fight the police and have no qualms with Morsi’s declaration, but the nominal reason for their being there is just that; Morsi is looking like he’s heading down the dictator route.
It’s no surprise that a people who had a revolution to overthrow a dictator are alarmed that their incumbent is assuming immunity after already having absolute legislative and executive power – his situation is every totalitarian’s wet dream. The question now is whether Morsi is willing, or able for that matter, to backtrack. He claim’s he is the “guardian” of Egypt and it’s revolution and is only doing this because these are “exceptional circumstances” (said every dictator in the history of time) and that he is trying to speed Egypt into a new era of freedom and democracy. If that’s the case, using dictatorial powers seems a slightly perverse way to get there.
Article first published in Atlantic Media’s Quartz magazine
Photography by the incredible Amanda Mustard
The Nile and its waters have historically been the lifeblood of Egypt. The country’s population occupies just 5% of the land, almost all of it along the Nile. But Egypt’s scorching deserts beyond the Nile delta hide a bounty: vast groundwater resources, which have usually been deemed not worth tapping.
Recently some farmers have begun to move outwards into the western desert to exploit the vast expanses of land, using diesel-powered pumps to pull up the groundwater for their crops. Diesel is cheap (the government subsidizes it) and the pumps run 20 hours a day. But they are noisy and polluting, and transporting diesel to these remote areas is costly and hard. “A logistical error in providing the diesel could result in powerless pumps, and therefore the loss of entire crops,” explains Xavier Auclair, founder of KarmSolar.
Four years ago Auclair, an engineering graduate, was based in his home country of France working for a strategy consultancy. He did well financially and progressed rapidly up the company ladder. But a few years in he found himself sitting in a closed-door meeting with an investment firm. “600 people were to lose their jobs due to that meeting’s decisions,” he said. After the meeting he resigned, and spent the next four months sailing halfway across the world, eventually moving to Egypt and learning Arabic. In reaction to what he had seen at the job he left behind, he decided to use his engineering training to pursue a “more moral” line of work. He began investigating the potential of renewable energy products, and with Ahmed Zahran, a former colleague, he started Karm Solar.
KarmSolar hopes to persuade the farmers to swap their diesel for solar power. Egypt is considered a “sun belt” country, lying in an area that receives 1970-3200 kilowatt-hours per square meter (kWh/sq m) of solar energy each year. By comparison, India receives between 1600 and 2200 kWh/sq m per year. The photovoltaic cells convert the sun’s energy into an electric current. (A kilowatt-hour of electricity powers a standard 100-watt bulb for 10 hours, though in the conversion from solar energy to electricity some of the energy is lost.) This can then be stored in batteries or used to power the pumps.
Although Egypt has more than its share of hot sunny days, the majority of Egypt’s renewable-energy solutions have been in the fields of hydroelectricity (Aswan dam) or in wind turbines (the recently built 200 megawatt wind farm in the El Zayt Gulf on the Red Sea). In another country the government might have systems in place to help a company such as KarmSolar. But in Egypt “they are actually more of an obstacle to us,” said Auclair. “They are subsidizing their fossil fuels to such an extent that we are effectively being priced out of the competition. This is one reason why we are moving off grid.”
KarmSolar has been commissioned to create a proof-of-concept “model farm” within a larger farm in the western desert, over 200 miles from Cairo. KarmSolar and its architectural partner, Green Architecture & Urbanism, spent days in the desert looking for possible sites. They want to design an area that would incorporate some 700 sq m of solar panels and a further 300 sq m for the buildings and workshop, to be built using locally procured materials.
Another partner of KarmSolar’s is WorldWater & Solar Technologies (WWST), a company based in Princeton, New Jersey, which is helping it improve its technology. As farms grow, technological hurdles appear. If a farm requires more than 20kW of solar power for its pumps, the bigger batteries needed to store the energy become much more expensive to produce and maintain, thus pricing the energy out of the market.
One of the problems with working off the grid is that every water pump needs to be designed to suit the conditions where it will be used—variations in the wind and the depth of the water table, for instance, must be considered. WWST helped KarmSolar write software that designs the farms and makes projections of their efficiency, overheads and returns, so they can pitch to potential investors.
Changing a country’s established methods takes time. Because the model farm is being built at a farm that already exists, Auclair is under no illusion that this first project will be everything he imagined. The pumps will still be using diesel power 60% of the time (due to restrictions, they can only use solar power on one well; the extra water required comes from diesel pumps). They will also be unable to implement a water-efficient, hydroponic “closed water system”; the rotary irrigation system that farmers are used to and prefer loses some ground water to evaporation.
The end goal is to one day create an entirely sustainable community off the grid. In the process Auclair hopes to create a cleaner, more sustainable Egypt by using the country’s massive quantities of land, groundwater, and sunlight, allowing farmers to be less tied to the crowded boundaries of the Nile.
The 4th November marked the culmination in a rather bizarre and controversial process that resulted in Bishop Tawadros being ordained Pope Tawadros II, the 118th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, thus becoming the leader of the largest Christian community in the Middle East. An estimated 10% of Egypt’s population are Coptic Christians (around 8 million people) making them the largest single minority in Egypt’s Muslim majority country.
The process for selecting a new pope began immediately after the death of Pope Shenouda III in March 2011. The position of locum tenens was given to Archbishop Pachomios, who has overseen the election process as guided by the 1957 bylaws, which regulate the papal election. Ironically, one of the first challenges facing the newly appointed Pope is in reforming these controversial regulations.
The selection regulations meant that only 2417 Copts were eligible in voting for their preferred nominees. The enfranchised were drawn from “notable” Coptic laymen, Coptic public officials and local councillors, and Coptic Bishops and Archbishops. Those against the bylaws point to its exclusivity and the perceived elitism of its regulations. This system of election has only been employed 10 times since having first been introduced in the 8th century and there are accusations that it has no spiritual or legal basis with some calling for it to be discarded altogether.
The process started with a committee mandated with creating a shortlist of 17 candidates to be Shenouda’s successor. A papal nominations committee then whittled the group down to 5 candidates, which included 2 bishops and 3 monks. The penultimate round included the enfranchised group casting their ballots to select the 3 that they wanted to see in the final round.
The top three finalists included: Bishop Raphael, 54, an auxiliary Bishop of central Cairo who is known for having good relations with young Copts; Bishop Tawadros, 60, Auxiliary Bishop for Northern Beheira Governorate, Auxiliary to Archbishop Pachomios and known for having good relations with Islamists; and Father Rafael Ava Mina, 70, a monk at St. Mina Monastery, author of several religious books and once deacon for the 116th Pope, Kyrillos VI.
Finally, yesterday morning after the 8am mass, this odd and contentious election process reached its zenith as a blindfolded Coptic child put his hand into a bowl containing the three candidate’s names and pulled out the small box with Bishop Tawadros’ name in it. Those in favour of this rather unconventional practice claim that this ensures that the selection is in God’s hands.
A member of the Holy Synod, Tawadros was born in 1952 and studied pharmaceutical sciences at Alexandria University and was ordained Bishop in 1997 by the Late Pope Shenouda III. His broad experience and managerial skills, he used to run a medicine factory, will be useful assets in helping him confront the challenges ahead.
Within the Church itself he has issues to contest with. Bishop Raphael spoke of how the new pope must devote himself to reorganising the Church from within and draw in the alienated and disillusioned Coptic youth that have moved away from the Church. Moreover, there is the issue of getting state approval in amending the controversial 1957 papal election bylaws as well as the 1938 bylaws, which govern the rules of divorce and remarriage.
Outside of the Church, the issues at stake are arguably larger. The Egypt Independent newspaper ran an article a week ago suggesting a ‘depoliticising’ of the Church, but with the volatile arena that he is stepping into, it seems that the question is not whether Pope Tawadros II will be involved in the politics, but to what degree he will be involved.
A month ago a 1-year anniversary march took place remembering the Maspero massacre where 27 people, mostly Copts, were killed during a peaceful protest, which was itself in reaction to the demolition of a Church in Upper Egypt.
A week later, there were large clashes in Tahrir Square, in part driven by the anger at the unrepresentative make-up of the Constitutional Assembly; the seculars, women and Copts all claiming little representation in it’s members. Around the same time the Constitutional Assembly released it’s draft constitution, which has received criticism from across the board.
Human Right’s Watch asked for the constitution to make some serious changes, saying that it “falls far short of international law on women’s and children’s rights, freedom of religion and expression, and, surprisingly, torture and trafficking”.
The Commercial Workers’ Syndicate released a joint statement condemning the draft for omitting their 50% seat quota in Parliament calling it a “violation of rights”.
With the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the election of the country’s first Islamist President it’s understandable that some Copts would be worried about their future – especially how it will be enshrined in the constitution. This isn’t to say that they will be targeted or alienated, but some of the constitutional articles lay grounds for worry.
Article 2 says, rather vaguely, that, “the principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation”. The exact application of this is predicated on the hermeneutic advice from Al-Azhar’s senior scholars with regards to the Sharia (as enshrined in Article 4), as well as the judiciary, legislative and executive bodies in power at the time. Due to its ill-defined wording, one can safely say that the future of Egypt and its dealings with the Coptic Christians (as well as all the other minorities, I might add) is dependent on whoever seizes the upper hand in its interpretation and application.
Which brings us back to the role of the newly appointed. Pope Tawadros II was known as an Islamist-friendly, peace-seeking Bishop, but now that he is head of his Church, the consequence of his rhetoric and promise of his actions – be they more or less politically inclined – is of the utmost importance to the largest minority in Egypt.
This article first appeared in the New Statesman
Downtown Cairo is a boisterous place. The ubiquitous honks of the car horns and the ebullience of peoples on the street ensure that any form of silence exists only in the memory. However, for one month a year, every year, the streets go silent and the shops close for as long as the energy sapping sun stings the eyes. This is the holy month of Ramadan.
One of the five pillars of Islam, every Muslim should abstain from drinking, eating, smoking (as well as a few other things) between Fajr prayers in the early morning and Maghreb Prayers in the dusk. The Qur’an prescribes it as a way of learning self-restraint.
The eschewing of water and food, however, means that those observing the fast are also affecting their energy levels. Simply walking down the street, the vitality that would once overwhelm me is conspicuous by its absence. Those that are out languishing under the relentless Cairo sun reply to my salutations with a half-hearted wave where once I would have been invited into conversation.
In an effort to manage this problem, the Egyptian government reduces the work hours of private sector and bank workers. The reduction and/or adjustment of work hours during the month of Ramadan takes place in almost every Muslim-majority country. But whereas Malaysia and Indonesia generally practice a one-hour adjustment, one-hour reduction scheme, Egypt practices a two-hour reduction for private sector workers, a three-hour reduction for banks, as well as a one-hour reduction in their stock exchange trading hours.
This may well ameliorate the situation of fasting with the workers, but it also means that over the course of Ramadan, the private sector loses around 40 hours of operating time, the banks around 60 hours and the Egyptian stock exchange around 20 hours of trading time.
Strangely though, the effect of losing 20 hours worth of trading time on the Egyptian stock market is minimal, if anything (see graph). Using data from the benchmark EGX30 index – which looks at the top 30 companies in terms of liquidity and activity – between the years 2000-2006 there is absolutely no correlation between the typical monthly percentage change in stock value and the percentage change in the month of Ramadan, but it does seem to suggest that the reduced trading times has increased the market’s volatility.
The fact that Egypt releases its GDP and growth statistics in quarterly format mean any attempt to scrutinise the Ramadan periods within them is futile. However, the latest data released by the Ministry of Planning and Ministry of Finance can be examined as it covers the period from 1 June to the present, which encapsulates most of this month of Ramadan, plus 19 days of non-fasting. In that time, the total GDP change has been -4.1%, which correlates to a recent report by the Dinar Standard – a research and advisory firm that focuses on emerging Muslim economies – which gave an estimate of an average loss of 4% to GDPs in Muslim-majority countries.
In that report, it estimated that Egypt made a loss of nearly 8% in its monthly GDP due to it’s reduced Ramadan hours, which would result in a total loss of just over US$1.4bn for last year’s Ramadan period. The reduction of hours may be necessary exchange for worker morale, but for an economy that is already struggling to attain the considerable US$22.5bn needed to finance its deficit for this fiscal year, it’s a hefty trade-off.
In the afternoon of Sunday 12th August, President Mohammed Morsi changed the landscape of Egyptian politics by sending a wrecking ball of rebalance crashing through the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ (SCAF) top brass. A presidential spokesperson announced the changes on state media. Once again, the protean nature of politics here meant that no one bar those involved in the close-door meetings had any idea what was about to be announced. Once again, it was news straight out of left-field (this is so often the case that one wonders why we do not crane our necks in that direction more often).
First, the 17 June constitutional addendum posited by the SCAF were abrogated, thus giving Morsi the powers that the SCAF had assumed, including the rest of his executive powers, legislative powers (while the parliament remains dissolved) and power to appoint a new constitutional assembly in the event of failure with the current one.
Second, Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, the Minister of Defence and General of the Armed Forces, and Sami Aman, the Army Chief of Staff, were fired, or “retired” as it was euphemistically put. In the place of the much-hated Tantawi, Morsi appointed Abdul-Fatah El-Sisi, who was the Head of Military Intelligence. With a quick Google search it appears that El-Sisi has attempted to justify the ‘virginity tests’ that were used on Tahrir Square female protesters. Oh Dear.
Third, there was to be a change in other Military personnel positions:
· Mohab Memish – Commander of the Navy was now head of the Suez Canal Authority
· Reda Hafez – Commander of the Air Force was now the Minister of Military Production
· Mohammed El-Assar – Head of Armaments was now Assistant to the new Minister of Defence.
Fourth, as his new Vice-President, Morsi appointed Mahmoud Mekki, who was deputy head of the Court of Cassation, and according to a few journalists and Egyptians on twitter, an old reformist judge who is well liked if not terribly well known.
In one fell swoop, Morsi finally showed his Egyptian people that he wasn’t as pusillanimous as he seemed. He had been accused by many of being far too unctuous when addressing Tantawi, of being far too slow in implementing the vast reforms he had promised to deliver within his first 100 days. Yet in one afternoon, through one press announcement, he managed to remove from their posts: the Minister of Defence and General of the Armed Forces; the Army Chief of Staff; the Commander of the Air Force; and the Commander of the Navy. If any of us thought of Egypt as a military-run deep state, it looks as though that is no longer the case.
I applaud, through shock, the temerity of Morsi in attempting to wrestle the power back from the military. I had watched his first 40 days as president with a sigh of resignation. He seemed to be playing to the rules drawn up by the military and things looked to slump back to the same low plains of inertia and populous indifference of the Mubarak-era.
However, by removing from power the incredibly powerful and disobliging figure of Tantawi he seems to be showing his strength, and for once at the right time. Whereas a month ago he attempted to reconvene the Parliament in direct opposition to the highest judicial ruling – and as such would be breaking the sacrosanct separation of powers – this time he had the authority and took his opportunity.
With the disaster in Northern-Sinai making the military look immensely impotent, I would not be surprised if this was what Morsi used to help consolidate the dislike many within the SCAF already harboured for Tantawi, and garner the away-support (if you will) necessary for his dismissal. Either way, he is gone, as are the other four major players of the SCAF. Hopefully, without the bipartisan struggle between the Government and the Army, Morsi can begin to address the major problems that are afflicting the country with a little more success.
In spite of these ‘victories’, one cant help but be a little disconcerted regarding the manner by which he managed his first ‘victory’ – the abrogation of the SCAF’s addendum and the implementation of his own. The new constitutional declaration was made up of 4 points, but it is only the second and third that matter and they are as follows:
“2- Article 25, clause 2 of the 30 March 2011 Constitutional Declaration is to be replaced with the following text: “And he [the president] will undertake all his duties as stipulated by Article 56 of this declaration.” [Article 56 outlines the authorities of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and grants the latter full executive and legislative powers, now held by Morsi.]
3- If the Constituent Assembly [tasked with drafting a new constitution] is prevented from doing its duties, the president can draw up a new assembly representing the full spectrum of Egyptian society mandated with drafting a new national charter within three months of the assembly’s formation. The new draft constitution is to be put before a nationwide referendum within 30 days after it is written. Parliamentary elections are to be held within two months of the public’s approval of the draft constitution.” - via Ahram Online
Whereas in the original, clause 2 of Article 25 meant that Morsi would only take up the first clause of article 56, (which delimited his executive powers) now he has gained full executive and legislative powers and he has also taken the SCAF’s power with regards to the constituent assembly (point 3 in his constitutional declaration).
When the SCAF made their addendum on the 17 June, many called it a ‘power grab’ and a ‘soft coup’. It seems Morsi has struck back at the supra-presidential military using their exact tactics. The journalist Bel Trew pointed out that he even lifts the same sentences from the SCAF version “If the constituent assembly is prevented from doing his duties…”
Now, rather than the military holding some executive powers and all the legislative powers, Morsi holds all of both plus a latent constitutional authority. Two of the three powers (Judicial remains intact and separate) are within his authority; all achieved via a constitutional declaration that was passed without referendum. It may be the case that this was exactly what was needed to wake this country from its slumber but I still object to the passing of a new addendum without some form of plebiscite. The arguments of Fredrick the Great’s Enlightened Despot never persuaded me of the credibility of such actions.
Either way, the constitutionality of his declaration can very easily be appealed and may end up being sent all the way to the High Constitutional Court (HCC) just as it had been when he attempted to reconvene parliament. But it seems that with the successful beheading of the SCAF, there is a momentum behind today’s actions that make them unstoppable. It is the immediate future up until parliamentary elections in September that one must remain wary.
Morsi gave a speech, not an hour ago, saying, “Our nation has been marginalised for too long. Today, our nation is coming back again after a great revolution” before claiming, “my decision today is not targeted at anyone. It is to pump new blood, new leaders to raise our flag”. Although even the blind can see that he did specifically target the military, he was very cautious in not sidelining the minorities who fear that an Islamic state would marginalise them further and who might see today’s actions as a presage of future repression. In a speech mostly about Ramadan, he still managed to try and stress that it was not a decision to further one group or target another, rather to revamp an ossifying situation.