Egypt: New breeding ground for government-sponsored Terrorism

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | DECEMBER 24, 2012

The tumultuous post revolutionary Egypt already has its new Constitution. According to unofficial results published by the local press, those who voted for the new ruling document gained even more support in the second phase of the referendum which is sponsored by Islamists. However, the victory has been questioned due to numerous reports of irregularities in the vote count. The new Egyptian constitution is hardly a step that enables a smooth transition to stability.

Strong participation in major Islamist strongholds, increased support for the Constitution to 71%, about 15 points higher than in the first part of the referendum. In the southern provinces of Beni Suef, and Qena it reached 85%. Adding both days, the average hit 64%.

Islamist leaders have welcomed the completion of a milestone that they qualify as “historic”. “We hope that the adoption of the new constitution is a historic opportunity to unite all political forces on the basis of mutual respect,” said Murad Ali, a spokesman for the Freedom and Justice Party (JLP), the electoral arm of the Muslims Brotherhood. According to current regulations no qualified majority was necessary to ratify the draft of the constitution.

However, the opposition considers the process illegitimate. “There has been widespread irregularities that have altered the result … We will file a complaint to the Attorney General documenting them,” said in a statement the National Salvation Front, the main opposition coalition that brings together political figures such as Nobel Peace Prize Mohamed ElBaradei and former presidential candidates Musa Amr and Hamdin Sabbahi.

Due to the speed of the call to the polls, no international organization monitored the referendum, but officials highlight the presence of some twenty Egyptian NGOs, most of which publicly requested a repeat of the voting due to fraud. Among the most common violations cited by observers was conducting campaign in mosques as well as inside polling stations, and the lack of judges to ensure the cleanliness of the vote.

The Electoral Commission is examining the allegations before offering the official result of its query. The chances that the commission calls for a repetition of the process, however, are almost null. During the presidential election, no tangible evidence was presented to support accusations of fraud, but the judicial authorities who monitored the elections and concluded that the irregularities were minor and posed no decisive threat to the result of the voting.

Judging by statements issued in recent days, the Islamists seem to be aware of the need to increase social support for the Constitution. “The articles rejected by the opposition are a few. We are willing to negotiate with them to make amendments and approve them in the new parliament,” says Ashraf Ismail, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in the province of Beni Suef.

Beyond the high percentage collected by the no, there is another very significant fact: participation was just over 30%, the lowest figure of all votes taken after the fall of Hosni Mubarak. In presidential elections, almost half of the census usually exercise their right to vote. “A Constitution that is only supported by 20% of the census, compared with 80% who disagree or boycott it does not enjoy sufficient consensus to be legitimate,” says analyst Abdel Magid.

If there is one important result being obtained in this supposed legitimate, open referendum is that a strong minority is getting away with their agenda. A it happens in all democracies, a small portion of the Egyptian society is easily becoming the dominant party in the country; a party that will perhaps become the new ruling group to stay in power for many years to come and that will operate under the mandate of an even smaller group.

The opposition, formed mainly by secular parties, defied the process over the weekend. “We will continue fighting to bring down this Constitution through peaceful means,” proclaimed Amr Hamzawy, a rising political figure among liberals. The results of any of the five appointments to the polls since the fall of Mubarak have led politicians to seek consensus. On the horizon is already shaping the next battle: the legislative elections scheduled for within a couple of months.

But this referendum could serve to end the demonstrations of recent weeks, some of which led to pitched battles between Islamists and seculars that resulted in a dozen deaths. With its entry into force, the Constitution repealed the decree which granted almost absolute power to Mohamed Morsi, one of the origins of the current political crisis. Until the election of the new People’s Assembly, the legislature will pass from the hands of Morsi to the Senate, where various Islamist groups have a wide majority.

Broadly speaking, it can be concluded that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have had their way on the pulse with the opposition. If everything goes as planned, Egypt is on its way to becoming another theocracy, where the Muslim Brotherhood will have Sharia Law as its guide to rule over everyone in the country. In gone unchallenged, this type of Islamist radicalism runs the risk of becoming another source of western hating, government-sponsored terror state which will be a perfect excuse for military industrial complex forces to intervene and invade in the near future.

One of the possible lessons of the current constitutional battle is the confirmation that the Islamists are a strong social minority that has the ability and the potential to decide the fate of Egypt without the consent of an important part of society. Although Morsi had to return power he had unlawfully taken before, his temporary power grab worked as a distraction to confuse an important portion of the population that after rejecting the current process have left important decisions in the hands of Morsi’s supporters.

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Santa gets early to Egypt as U.S. gives Morsi’s Military 20 new F-16s

AP | DECEMBER 11, 2012

The Egyptian military on Monday assumed joint responsibility with the police for security and protecting state institutions until the results of a Dec. 15 constitutional referendum are announced.

The army took up the task in line with a decree issued Sunday by President Mohammed Morsi. The Islamist leader on Monday also suspended a series of tax hikes announced the previous day on alcohol, cigarettes and other items.

The presidential edict orders the military and police to jointly maintain security in the run-up to Saturday’s vote on the disputed charter, which was hurriedly approved last month by a panel dominated by the president’s Islamist allies despite a boycott of the committee’s liberal, secular and Christian members.

The decree also grants the military the right to arrest civilians, but presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said it was nowhere near a declaration of martial law.

“It is merely a measure to extend legal cover for the armed forces while they are used to maintain security,” Ali told The Associated Press.

There were no signs of a beefed up military presence outside the presidential palace, the site of fierce street clashes last week, or elsewhere in the capital on Monday.

Still, Morsi’s decision to lean on the military to safeguard the vote is widely seen as evidence of just how jittery the government is about the referendum on the draft constitution, which has been at the heart of days of dueling protests by the opposition and Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood backers. The two sides clashed in Cairo last week, leaving at least six people dead and hundreds wounded in the worst violence of the crisis.

Both the opposition and Morsi’s supporters have called for mass rallies on Tuesday.

The opposition has rejected the referendum, but has yet to call for a boycott or instead a “no” vote at the polls.

“A decision on whether we call for a boycott of the referendum or campaign for a `no’ vote remains under discussion,” Hossam Moanis, a spokesman for the National Salvation Front grouping opposition parties and groups told the AP on Monday. “For now, we reject the referendum as part of our rejection of the draft constitution.”

The military last week sent out several tanks and armored vehicles in the vicinity of the presidential palace in Cairo following protests there by tens of thousands of Morsi’s critics. It was the first high-profile deployment by the military since it handed power in June to Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president.

Morsi on Saturday rescinded decrees issued Nov. 22 granting him near absolute powers and placing him above any oversight, including by the courts. He has, however, insisted that the referendum will go ahead on schedule.

Judges have gone on strike to protest Morsi’s perceived “assault” on the judiciary and have said they would not oversee the Dec. 15 vote as is customary for judges in Egypt. Judges of the nation’s administrative courts announced Monday they were conditionally lifting their boycott of the vote, but they said their supervision of the process was conditional on bringing an end to the siege of the Supreme Constitutional Court by Morsi’s supporters.

In exchange for their supervision, they also demanded assurances that authorities would crack down on vote canvassing outside polling stations and offer life insurance policies to the judges.

Morsi’s deputy, Mahmoud Mekki, has said the vote could be staggered over several days if there were not enough judges to oversee the referendum.

The court was widely expected to dissolve the panel that drafted the constitution in a session scheduled for Dec. 2. The siege of the Nile-side building in Cairo’s Maadi district began Dec. 1.

In a surprise move, Morsi on Monday rescinded a series of decrees issued the previous day to raise taxes on a wide range of items and services, including alcohol, cigarettes, mobile phones, services offered by hotels and bank loans.

The state-owned daily Al-Ahram said the Sunday decrees to raise taxes were issued by Morsi. On Monday, the official MENA news agency carried a statement from Morsi’s office saying the president has decided to “suspend” the tax increases.

“The president does accept that citizens shoulder any additional burdens except by choice,” the statement said. Morsi, it added, has ordered a public debate on the increases to gauge popular reaction.

“The people will always have the loudest voice and final decision,” it added.

It was not immediately clear why Morsi changed his mind about the tax hikes in a matter of hours, but the about-face appeared to have more to do with inexperience rather than a bid by the president to appear sympathetic with the majority of Egyptians who struggle daily to make end meet as the economy’s woes deepen. A popular backlash against tax hikes could hurt the chances of the Morsi-backed draft constitution being ratified in the referendum.

Egypt and the IMF last month have reached an initial agreement for a $4.8 billion loan to revive the country’s ailing economy. The deal, agreed after nearly three weeks of negotiations in Cairo, will support the government’s economic program for 22 months, the IMF said in a statement.

Egyptian authorities said at the time that it intended to raise revenues through tax reform, using the resources generated from new taxes to boost social spending and investment in new infrastructure.

 

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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