Open political battle breaks out over Egypt’s Constitution

Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians have been demonstrating on both sides with regard to a draft constitution for the North African state. President Mohamed Morsi, whose Nov. 22 edict increasing his political powers sparked mass protests, has now announced a Dec. 15 date for a national referendum to approve or reject the controversial document.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which is behind Morsi’s political party, and the Salafist Muslim organizations form a majority in the government and have a broad political base, which means the referendum would likely approve the new constitution.

On the other side, 18 left and liberal parties and coalitions, known as the Revolution Salvation Front, plan a demonstration at the presidential palace on Dec. 4 to express their opposition to the current process of constitutional development as well as its content.

These two opposing sectors are in the streets. Another force operating quietly is what the Egyptians call “the deep state,” made up of the army — whose top officers own and control about 30 percent of Egypt’s economy — the police and the court system. This deep state represents the continuation of Hosni Mubarak’s repressive state, which the revolution of January-February 2011 failed to remove even though it ousted the U.S.-backed dictator.

The recent large demonstrations still are smaller than the giant nationwide outpouring in 2011, which also included striking industrial workers and urban poor who fought police and thugs and confronted the army to overthrow Mubarak. The Morsi government has still not begun to meet this impoverished sector’s urgent needs for economic security.

From the state apparatus, the judges, many of whom were appointed during the Mubarak era, are the only ones who openly oppose Morsi’s attempt to limit their powers. So far the generals and the police have not spoken out. The generals’ history, their class position as big capitalists and their ties to U.S. imperialism and the Pentagon place them as an irreconcilable enemy of the workers and poor masses.

Morsi, the left and the judiciary

Morsi said his decree was aimed at the Mubarak forces still in the state apparatus and claims these forces are working within the opposition. But the secular and left groups see Morsi’s maneuvers as aimed at them.

The 18 left groups calling the Dec. 4 protest include the Constitution Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Free Egyptians Party, the National Front for Justice and Democracy, the April 6 Youth Movement, the Democratic Front and the Kefaya Movement. In a Dec. 2 joint statement, these opposition forces wrote, “The constitution project that Morsi wants to put before a referendum is in fact a project for tying down the political, civil, social and economic freedoms of Egyptians.” (Ahram Online, Dec. 2)

Morsi’s decree has prompted resignations from the Constituent Assembly — charged with drafting the new constitution — by representatives from secular parties as well as Coptic Christians, along with individual human rights activists like Wael Khalil and Seif El-Islam, who oppose “the rush to finalize the [constitution].”

There have been conflicting reports over whether the judicial institutions will oversee the upcoming referendum. Supporters of Morsi held a demonstration outside the highest court on Dec. 2. Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters shouted, “We will not leave!” while members of the Judicial Council were reportedly denied admittance to the building. The judges were slated to render a decision on the constitutionality of the Dec. 15 referendum.

Nonetheless, further reports on Dec. 3 said that the Supreme Judicial Council would monitor the Dec. 15 referendum. A Supreme Committee for supervising the elections was formed despite earlier reports.

President Morsi also received support from the Salafist Nour Party, whose representatives said the Dec. 15 referendum was “the right move for achieving stability in Egypt.” (Ahram Online, Dec. 2)

The Salafist Nour Party won the second largest bloc of votes after the Muslim Brotherhood-aligned Freedom and Justice Party in the parliamentary vote. These two parties have organized the demonstrations supporting the upcoming vote on the draft constitution.

Egypt has seen a precipitous decline in foreign exchange earnings over the last two years due to anti-government unrest and the impact of the overall world economic crisis. Tourism, which accounts for 7 percent of the gross domestic product, a mainstay of the economy, has declined by at least 30 percent. Unemployment among the youth is estimated to be in excess of 50 percent.(U.S. News & World Report, Oct. 5)

Mounting foreign debt has resulted inPresident Morsi’s attempts to borrow money from the European Union, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Gulf states that are closely aligned with Washington. Dependence on these funds will push Egypt’s domestic and foreign policy in a pro-imperialist direction.

Various left and liberal parties have mobi­lized hundreds of thousands of people while calling for the cancellation of the draft constitutional vote and the reopening of negotiations surrounding the nature and character of the political transformation process.

Nevertheless, the vote and its outcome will not resolve the burgeoning economic crisis for 80 million Egyptians, and especially for the poorest Egyptians. Nor will it determine if the Egyptian government and army remains tied to U.S. imperialism’s pro-Israel policy while the Egyptian population overwhelmingly is in solidarity with Palestine.

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