Why can Egyptians challenge their government but Americans can’t?

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | DECEMBER 10, 2012

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, today decided to cancel the controversial statement that shielded his powers against other government branches in his country as well as against justice. The new text says that if the new constitution is rejected in the referendum to be carried out on December 15, the president must choose a new Constituent Assembly in three months. The new constitutional declaration maintains the possibility of prosecuting those responsible for killings.

In a couple of weeks time, and after massive protests from a majority of Egyptians, Mohamed Morsi had to back down on his attempt to become the newest dictator, which he achieved by giving himself as much power as his predecessor had.

As announced in a press conference, the Islamist Mohamed Selim al Awa, who participated in a national dialogue meeting convened by Morsi, the president did not agree to postpone the referendum on the new constitution, so it will be held on 15 December as it was first set by Morsi himself.

The cancellation of the constitutional act was one of the demands of the opposition, along with the postponement of the plebiscite that finally was held as scheduled.

The commission, composed among others by al Awa and liberal politician Ayman Nur, drafted a new constitutional declaration that has been promulgated by Morsi that cancels the previous article imposed by Morsi back on November 21.

The constitutional change does not mention the controversial shield to Morsi’s powers that had been granted previously, or judicial immunity guaranteed to the Constituent Assembly and the Shura Council (upper house).

The new text says that if the new constitution is rejected in a referendum, the president must choose a new Constituent Assembly within three months of the vote, consisting of a hundred people and that must complete its work within a period not exceeding six months.

The new constitutional declaration maintains the ability to prosecute those responsible for the killings of protesters and civilians committed between January 25, 2011, when the so-called Arab Spring began  against Hosni Mubarak, and June 30, 2012, when Morsi took office.

The change declares itself constitutional himself while doing the same for all decrees issued since the fall of Mubarak.

As for the referendum, the Egyptian vice president, Mahmoud Meki, said in the press conference that there will be enough judges to oversee the consultation, after some groups of the judiciary announced that they will not participate in the monitoring.

The national dialogue, in which these decisions were made to give a solution to the political crisis in the country, was boycotted by the non-Islamist opposition, which is part of the “National Salvation Front”.

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Egyptian Judges set to Boycott Morsi’s Referendum

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | DECEMBER 3, 2012

After a special meeting in Cairo, Judges from the Egyptian Court, announced their resignation to oversee the referendum which is intended to ratify the Constitution adopted early Friday. The vote to approve the latest version of the Egyptian Constitution, which is composed mainly by Islamic law, will take place on December 15.

Public protest were added to the Judges’ concern after the  latest decisions of the Islamist government, especially the decree that grants almost absolute powers to Mohamed Morsi. Morsi himself signed the decree which also shields the Constituent Assembly, abandoned by liberal and secular representatives.

“We have decided to boycott the supervision of the Constitutional referendum scheduled for December 15. The protest is a response to what has been called a constitutional declaration. And we will keep it until the decree is removed, “said Ahmed al-Zend, the president of the association and famous scourge of Islamists. The Judges’ decision was taken by a majority, but it is not binding on its members, so that each judge shall endorse or not the call of Al-Zend.

The Judges’ Club, a legal association in Egypt has been organizing the judiciary so that it shows greater hostility to the decree signed by Morsi right from the first moment, urging its members to strike indefinitely until the head of state removes the controversial text. Although there are no official figures, some local media have estimated the strike track by about 100% for the courts, and 75% for appeals.

According to current legislation, judges are responsible for overseeing both elections and referendums. If we consider that in Egypt there are about 12,000 judges, and a similar number of polling stations, it is easy to conclude that the boycott organized by the Club requires only moderate support to prevent the successful holding of the referendum.

However, vice-president Mahmoud Mekki, a judge himself, is confident that his colleagues will end up doing their duty. Sources close to the Muslim Brotherhood suggested to the newspaper Al-Masry al-Youm that university professors or government officials could replace striking judges.

However, this would cast the shadow of doubt on the legitimacy of the referendum and would probably lead to the opposition to boycott. Currently, secular parties and movements are torn between not campaigning or participating in the referendum, hoping that a low turnout will delegitimize the entire constitutional process.

The Judges Club announcement came hours after the Constitutional Court defined Sunday as “the blackest day in the history of the judiciary in Egypt”, after hundreds of Islamist militants encircled their building to bar entry to judges. The Court, which would issue a symbolic verdict on the legality of the Constituent Assembly, suspended its work indefinitely.

The conflict with the judiciary is one of two open fronts that president Morsi is facing at the moment and which have made the Egyptian transition more difficult than expected. The other is the political front. Morsi’s “constitutional declaration” and his decision to accelerate the adoption of the new constitution without reaching a consensus with secular forces set the fragmented opposition up in arms. But what is worse for Morsi, is that he is beginning to show signs of incapacity to create the unity needed to move forward.

Many opposition groups that work under the umbrella of the National Salvation Front are preparing the next mobilization. Such mobilization will take place Tuesday at the gates of the presidential palace. “The National Salvation Front condemns the irresponsible act of the President to convene a referendum on a constitution which we consider to be illegitimate and that is rejected by a large portion of our supporters,” said the statement issued by the coalition.

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Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi shows his Teeth

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | NOVEMBER 29, 2012

After a modest attempt to bring opponents together, the Egyptian president turned dictator, Mohamed Morsi and his political movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, have opted to shield themselves again against the political crisis gripping the country after he granted himself almost absolute power.

On Wednesday night it emerged that the Brotherhood will accelerate the process of drafting the new constitution to finish on Thursday, a move that will deteriorate even more the relations between Islamist and secular.

As we reported last week, one of the most controversial provisions in the constitutional declaration was Morsi’s shielding of the Constituent Assembly against a possible dissolution by the Constitutional Court. The Court was expected to rule on the legality of the committee, now dominated by Islamists, beginning next December 2. Secular forces had withdrawn from the Assembly, hoping that it could lead to a new more balanced committee.

The process of drafting the new constitution began almost six months ago, and had entered its final phase in October. In fact, several drafts have already been published, and the time has come to decide the content of several of the most sensitive items. The President of the Assembly, Hossan al Geriany reported Wednesday that the next day there would be a final vote of each of the 200 items.

“The decision to accelerate the vote will only serve to add fuel to the fire,” said Mohamed Abdel-Alim Dawoud to the Al Ahram newspaper. Dawoud is a member of the historic Wafd party, and one of the representatives of the Constituent Assembly that was removed. The sudden decision is directly related to the political crisis in the country.

For the Muslim Brotherhood the decision to accelerate the process is a way to double its bet on his game with the opposition, presenting some stark choices: accept the exceptional powers or a constitution that is not to their liking. Geriany was very clear: “If you are angry about the decree, nothing better than an approved constitution to solve the problem”.

Under current legislation, the majority needed to approve the Constitution is 57 of the 100 members of the Constituent Assembly. Subsequently, the voted version must be approved in a popular referendum in order to take effect. Despite the withdrawal of the representatives of the secular parties and some civil entities, experts believe that the Islamists possess a quorum to approve a new constitution

Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court reacted to Morsi’s accusations about the the Court’s leaks regarding its decisions. The Court accused Morsi of launching a “campaign of relentless attacks” against the institution. In a statement, the Constitutional denies the assertion that it has politicized the political game.

Most political analysts insist that there is a need to seek a negotiated solution to the conflict and the process of drafting the new constitution. Failure to reach an agreement will certainly cause another period of confrontations, both on the media and on the streets.

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Egyptians say NO to new Dictator

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | NOVEMBER 23, 2012

The opposition of the Egyptians to having a new puppet dictator did not take long to appear. The streets of Cairo and other cities resounded with the force that helped topple dictator Hosni Mubarak. The message is now directed to recently elected Mohamed Morsi, who wants to ensure his presence in government for much more time than everyone else expected. After passing a package of measures that he deems relevant to turn true some of his campaign promises, thousands of Egyptians fear Morsi will remain forever in power, especially after signing a ‘constitutional’ statement which places him above the law.

The “decree” that Morsi issued became the spark of yet another flammable round of protests that threatens to divide even more the two most powerful groups in Egypt: the Islamists and the secular. In several localities clashes between Morsi supporters and opponents broke the period of relative stability after the elections.  In at least three cities, Alexandria, Port and Ismailiya, protesters torched offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, the president’s party.

In the capital, the street marches began and ended without serious incidents, except for some skirmishes with police in Tahrir, where police used tear gas against protestors. The main opposition leaders, who are also West-controlled puppets, Mohamed El Baradei, and Hamdin Sabahi, the presidential candidate who finished third, took part in the demonstrations.

ElBaradei, founder of the new Constitution Party, called Morsi the “new king” after learning about the decree. “He has usurped all state power: a blow to the revolution that can have serious consequences,” the former diplomat wrote in his Twitter account. Some constitutional law professors have come to describe the movement as a “coup”.

In contrast, Islamist formations, both Salafists as the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, have come out in defense of the president. Thousands of Islamists gathered outside the gates of the presidential palace to express their support to President Morsi.

Early in the afternoon, the Morsi addressed his followers on a nationwide public television message issued from a stage in which there was a large picture of him. “The old regime is paying to attack government buildings and sow chaos,” proclaimed Morsi, who said that the role of what he called the ‘real opposition’ was important. “They want to obstruct the revolution, but do not let them do so … My decision today is to compensate those injured in the revolution,” Morsi said.

As for his decree, he denied wanting to break laws, and justified it with arguments such as seeking stability and purge of counterrevolutionary elements in the judiciary.

Until yesterday, Morsi had control of the Executive, Legislative and Constituent Assembly. After relieving the army leadership in August, the only institution hostile to his reign was the judiciary. So with the new constitutional declaration, submitted to the judiciary authority, Morsi has now seriously undermined the central pillar of the weak rule of law in post revolutionary Egypt.

According to the text, none of the decisions, decrees or laws approved by the him since his inauguration may be revoked by another state institution, including the judiciary. Morsi said there are those “who hide behind the judges” to derail the transition to democracy. “I do not like or want to use exceptional procedures, but if I see that my country is in danger I will, because it is my duty,” he said. “We respect justice, because in it there are many individuals who are clean, but we are against those who hide behind it.

Moreover, the Islamist leader shielded the Constituent Assembly and the Senate, both threatened with dissolution by three requests being considered by the Constitutional Court. Morsi also extended to two months the time available for the Constituent Committee to draft the new constitution, which was supposed to expire in early December.

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Egypt: A dictator’s best friend is always a crisis

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | NOVEMBER 23, 2012

Taking advantage of its renewed popularity thanks to the diplomatic success in the Gaza crisis, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, signed on Thursday four decrees that set him above the law, subjecting the judiciary branch of government to his authority. The sudden decision represents quite a dramatic effect in the long conflict between the Muslim Brotherhood and a section of the judiciary, in the context of a democratic transition.

According to the new legal package, which has the status of a constitutional declaration in the absence of a constitution, none of the decisions, decrees or laws approved by the president since his inauguration may be revoked by another state institution, and that includes the capacities of the judiciary branch. Not even Hosni Mubarak get such a position of prominence, at least from a legal standpoint.

In addition, the rais ceases the rebel state prosecutor, Abdel Magid Mahmud, and appointed in his place Talat Abdullah. Mahmud was a problem to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. As one of the lat vestiges of the Mubarak era, the former Prosecutor General is responsible for the acquittal of important figures of the former regime. The president ceased Mahmud last month, and sent him as ambassador to the Vatican. However, the attorney general, a lifetime appointment under current regulations, clung to his post and succeeded in making Morsi give up in his attempt to unseat him. Apparently, only temporarily.

In a nod to the revolutionary forces, one of the decrees ordered by Morsi says that all those acquitted on the murders and abuses committed during the 18 days of the Egyptian revolution last year will have to be retried. With few exceptions, including Mubarak and his interior minister at the time, the trials of senior officials and officers of the security forces have resulted in acquittals for lack of evidence. Indeed, this was one of the main demands of the revolutionaries which Morsi promised to meet during the election campaign.

Morsi also shields the Constituent Assembly and the Senate, both threatened with dissolution by three applications being considered by the Constitutional Court. Furthermore, in two months Morsi gave the constituent committee two more months to write the new draft of the constitution, that was due to expire in early December. The Assembly is facing a serious crisis after the recent withdrawal of the secular parties arguing that the body is dominated by Islamists.

So, with his legal package, Morsi tries to bring water to his mill in several conflicts between the Muslim Brotherhood with some strata and sectors of Egyptian society. The rais repeats the move that allowed him to relieve the army leadership last August, and shows that he or his puppet masters understand the dynamics of power and the windows of political opportunity to reassert presidential authority. What a better time than a regional crisis to assert himself as a ‘leader’?

Undoubtedly, the main target of Morsi’s move is a judiciary sector led by the Constitutional Court. The row with the highest levels of the judiciary starts with the dissolution of the first Constituent Assembly and Parliament, both bodies dominated by Islamists.

Since its inception, the Egyptian transition has been a struggle between various political movements and power centers. The absence of any consensus, not even among the revolutionary forces, caused the politicization of the judiciary. And especially its upper echelons, plagued by judges loyal to Mubarak and hostile to Islamist ideology.

However, we have to see if Morsi achieves his goals with this bold move, or rather galvanizes and unites his detractors. Since his inauguration last June, the popular manifestations of rejection of his government have been rather limited in scope, but the frequency of those manifestations has increased. A questions that needs to be asked is whether the order to retry those allegedly responsible for crimes during the Mubarak regime will bring together the revolutionaries or if that move will install fears of a new theocracy.

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