Egypt has seen no peace since President Mursi issued his Constitutional Declaration on 23 November and followed it, a week later, with setting the date 15 December for a public
referendum on a draft constitution that was rushed through by an Islamist-dominated constituent assembly.
Protests December 2012
Egypt’s non-Islamists saw President Mursi’s decree as a power grab complete with curtailed independence of the judiciary, and immunity against the dissolution of the Shura Council and the constituent assembly that was then drafting a new constitution—the legality of both bodies was being contested in the courts. It was beyond anything Egypt had seen since it stopped being a monarchy in 1952. Egyptians who desire to see their country as a civil State saw the rush for an Islamist-oriented constitution as a flagrant attempt to instate despite sizeable opposition an Islamist State in Egypt, and impose it as a fait accompli.
“Black day for Egypt”
The curtailment of freedoms had the seculars in arms. The judges—apart from the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) which could be called upon to rule on the legality of any action—suspended courts. Lawyers went on strike.
Cairo woke up on Tuesday to no independent papers on the newsstands; they had refrained from printing to protest a draft constitution that severely curtailed freedom of expression.
Thousands of seculars took to the streets. Cairo’s Tahrir Square has teemed with protestors against President Mursi’s decisions since the evening of Friday 23 November. The Islamist movements, mainly the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), retaliated with a huge demonstration of their own which they held in front of Cairo University in Giza on Saturday 1 December.
Sunday 2 December was the date the SCC was to pronounce its verdict on the constitutional validity of the constituent assembly which had written the draft constitution. Since the assembly had been formed by a parliament that had been dissolved by court order, it was expected that the assembly too would have been pronounced invalid. Islamist demonstrators converged on the court grounds through the night and besieged it so that the judges were unable to reach the court. The judges could not hold the court session; they issued a statement in which they described the day as a “black day for Egypt” and said they would not convene until its judges could operate without “physical and moral pressure”. For many Egyptians, the Islamists were waging an act of terrorism not only against the court but against Egypt in its entirety.
Non-democracy to bring about democracy?
The secular political movements joined hands and called for a wide-scale demonstration on Tuesday to march on the presidential palace in Heliopolis, east of Cairo. The public response was momentous, millions marched on from various spots in Cairo, converging on the presidential palace. Many among them had never taken part in a public protest before but had viewed their patriotic role as no more than casting their ballots in elections. [A first-hand story: “Proud to be Egyptian”, below]. Yet it was clear they were deeply concerned at the persistence of President Mursi in gripping all the reins of power in his hands, in defiance to all democratic traditions. “Why did he have to do that?” a young woman among the protesters asked. “Has he lost confidence in the democratic process, or is he afraid the outcome would not be to his or his party’s liking?” The President claimed he was doing what he did in order to bring in a constitution and a legitimate parliament. But it defied reason that the President was resorting to non-legitimate means to bring about legitimacy, and to non-democratic means to bring about democracy.
According to Watani’s reporter and photographer Nasser Sobhy the numbers of demonstrators was beyond anything he had ever seen. “I have covered all the protests in Cairo since 25 January 2011 when the revolution erupted,” he says, “but this is by far the largest ever protest I saw.”
President Mursi left the presidential palace through a back door to an unknown destination.
The vigil went on peacefully; many went back home at the early hours of dawn, but a few set up tents and announced they were holding a sit-in.
The following day, Wednesday, the republican guard ordered the squatters away and the tents removed. Yet before they could do so, those in the tents were attacked by Mursi supporters. Word got around; the Mursi opponents insisted they would not be intimidated, and hordes of them headed to the palace.
This is when the clashes started. The seculars say they were viciously assaulted by Mursi supporters, with white weapons and clubs. Molotov cocktails flew around as well as gunshots. Nearby shops and cars were attacked, burned or damaged. The horror scene went on till almost 3:00am when it was finished off by military tanks and trucks.
Until Watani International went to press the death toll had reached 10 and the injured a staggering 760. In addition to the official ambulance services, field hospitals were set up by a number of churches in Heliopolis: the Coptic Orthodox, the Catholic, the Evangelical, the Roman Catholic, and Greek Catholic, and the Maronite.
“75 per cent will say ‘yes’”
A wave of resignations flowed in from members of President Mursi’s advisory body. All the independent advisors to the President, eight out of 21 advisors and assistants, resigned; those remaining belong to the Islamist camp. His Coptic aide, Samir Morqos who carried the title of presidential aide for democratic transition, had resigned in the wake of Mursi’s Constitutional Declaration which Morqos said he learned of from the TV news.
The Islamists insisted the protests were unwarranted since the seculars could have their democratic say in the upcoming referendum. But the seculars for their part see that Mursi’s recent moves which serve to curtail freedoms and democracy were unwarranted. In his daily column in the Cairo independent al-Masry al-Youm, Soliman Gouda asked how could Mursi claim he was after democracy and legitimacy, and then use undemocratic tools to bring about democracy? And how can his vice president Mahmoud Mekki say on an interview with al-Jazeera that he expected a 75 per cent vote of ‘yes’ to the draft constitution on the upcoming referendum?
Analysts warned of the polarisation of the nation. Former MP Bassel Adel said that talk by MB persons about Copts being responsible for rallying for the protest was untrue and served to split Egypt along sectarian lines. “Muslims as well as Christians have been among the protesters, he said.
Major General Mohamed Badr pointed out that Mursi’s decree and the draft constitution, as well as the consequent demonstrations and attacks must not be seen as separate from the regional struggle, the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and the situation in Sinai. These things are all interrelated, he said
It took President Mursi till Thursday evening to talk to the nation on State TV. He refused to budge an inch on his decree or the referendum date, and said that the 89 persons caught in the demonstrations confessed they had been paid to do so by remnants of the previous regime. They will be charged with assault and murder. He said the minority had to give in to the will of the majority, and invited all the political forces for a talk on Saturday.
Until Watani International went to press, the secular forces were persistent in their marches on the presidential palace, and several declined the President’s invitation. The National Salvation Front formed by Amr Moussa, Hamdeen Sabahi, and Mohamed ElBaradei announced it would not talk to the President unless he rescinded his decisions. The Free Egyptians Party announced it was freezing its activities, since “political work in Egypt today is unethical,” it said.
7 December 2012
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