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.
Follow my twitter for pictures and regular updates on what is happening.
A little bit late but here’s my thoughts on the Coptic Papal Elections in Egypt:
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.
My piece on what Ramadan does to the Egyptian economy in the New Statesman magazine. Subtitle is a little misleading…
For reasons that seem unknown to anyone, a popular and - by all accounts - benign book on a history of the Middle East has suddenly been put on the black list and banned from entering the country. Worrying…
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.