Egyptian President Morsi bears responsibility for the escalation of violence in his country. But the confrontations between his supporters and opponents are about more than the draft constitution, says DW's Loay Mudhoon.
Mudhoon is an Islam expert at DW
Senseless violence between opponents and supporters of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has continued on the streets of Cairo for days. The time has come for an honest appraisal of the dramatic events that have brought the country to the brink of civil war.
The new confrontation started with Morsi's "constitutional statement," which for all intents and purposes removed the division of power in the country. He used the decree to keep the judiciary from being able to overrule his decisions, but he also used it to exclude the constituent assembly from judicial oversight.
Morsi has good, objective reasons for doing do. The Constitutional Court is the last bastion of the Mubarak regime. It was this court that repeatedly allowed itself to be a pawn of the now-disempowered military. In June, it nullified the first truly free and democratic parliamentary election.
Morsi had to expect that the Constitutional Court would dissolve the constituent assembly, which was dominated by Islamists. But the step would reset the entire post-revolutionary transformations process. A long period of political deadlock and instability would have terrible consequences for Egypt.
Morsi is no pharaoh
Morsi bears the main responsibility for the escalation of violence and extreme polarization in the country as it was his lack of instinct that caused it. He should have sought out dialogue with revolutionaries on Tahrir Square and thanked them for making his election possible. Instead he granted himself dictatorial powers and bet everything on pushing through the constitutional process without establishing a wide consensus.
Yet Morsi is neither a "pharaoh" nor a new Mubarak. He's is rather the first legitimate, democratic president of Egypt and currently the only democratic institution in the country.
The draft constitution Egyptians will vote on in two weeks time was formed in a rush. A look at the text shows that - contrary to the sometimes hysterical reaction of the liberal elite in Cairo and Alexandria - it does not establish Egypt as a religious republic like Iran.
The 'principles of Shariah' are not dangerous
The documents states that the "principles of Shariah are the main source of legislation." But that is neither new nor dangerous. This article has been a part of the Egyptian constitution since 1971. And liberal and Muslim reformers commonly refer to the higher "principles of Shariah" when they want to unite their image of democracy with Islam.
The draft constitution also redefines the role of the renowned Al-Azhar University. It will become an independent charitable institution and its head, Sheikh Al-Azhar, who until now had been appointed by the president, will be chosen by an independent body. This does not turn the well-regarded institution of learning for Sunni Islam into the Egyptian guardian council that would control public morals in the country as feared by critics of the constitution. Instead, Al-Azhar University would enjoy independence and could regain its old influence as a moderate institution free from political influence.
Additionally, the draft constitution guarantees the equality of citizens before the law as well as freedom of the press and expressions. Unfortunately, neither women's rights nor minorities enjoy explicit protection - instead the special character of Egyptian families and their importance for the nation is emphasized. Ultra-conservative powers could certainly interpret these sections of the draft to the detriment of women.
No culture of consensus
One positive aspect is that the text limits a president's time in office to two terms. This constitutional guarantee should be enough to keep anyone from talking about a new "pharaoh."
The confrontation between the Islamist and civil-liberal camps is about more than Morsi's decree and the draft constitution. It's about cultural hegemony in the new Egypt. It's about who will leave a mark on the country. This conflict was foreseeable in a country with a liberal elite and a conservative, religious majority in the population. This majority would likely support Morsi's goals and his draft constitution if he were to seek a national dialogue with liberal powers. Morsi has to dare to work for reconciliation.