Faced with the prospect of substantial public resistance to his scheduling of a referendum on a Muslim Brotherhood-tinged constitution on December 15, Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi has turned to the military. (The green in the title is a reference to political Islam, not the environment).
Morsi has ordered that the Egyptian army guard government buildings (and presumably the offices of his own party, Freedom and Justice, which have been being attacked by protesters). They spent Sunday putting up a blast wall around the presidential palace in Heliopolis, Cairo, which protesters invaded last Tuesday.
I spent some of summer, 2011, hanging out in Tahrir Square at a time when thousands of protesters regularly gathered there. A consistent demand, visible in dozens of placards, posters and graffiti, was that the power of the military to arrest civilians and remand them for trial in military courts be rescinded.
Morsi is attempting to ally with the military against the revolutionary youth, and so is giving back to the officers this prerogative. Nothing could succeed better in alienating the protesters from Morsi than this decree.
The other problem Morsi had was that most of the judges, including in pro-Muslim Brotherhood cities such as Asyut, are refusing to oversee next Saturday’s referendum on the constitution, as they must by law.
Morsi is deploying the army and other security forces to oversee the elections and to keep the voting stations safe.
The revolutionary youth have long been afraid of an alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian army, combining the worst elements of both into a new, fundamentalist praetorian authoritarianism. Morsi did nothing on Sunday to allay those fears.
Morsi also announced on Sunday tax increases or price rises for many key commodities, as part of his quest for a $4.5 billion loan from the International Monetary fund. He slapped big taxes on liquor and cigarettes, as part of the Brotherhood’s campaign gradually to make Egypt a moral society. (They also want to send the night-owl Cairenes to bed at 10 pm, so as to cut down on carousing).
At 2 am Cairo time on Monday morning, Morsi abruptly cancelled the new taxes. Presumably his advisors became alarmed that the taxes might anger even Brotherhood supporters, and they are hoping to postpone them until after the referendum, when less is at stake.
The Egyptian Salvation Front, a coalition of liberal, leftist and centrist parties, has rejected Morsi’s referendum. The Irish Times suggests that their apparent determination to boycott the referendum derives from a conviction that they cannot defeat it at the polls. But it seems to me equally likely that the young revolutionaries just don’t think in terms of grassroots political campaigns. Moreover, they used to boycott Hosni Mubarak’s referendums. They are still acting like revolutionaries rather than transitioning into democratic politics.
Big rallies are called by leftists and liberals before the presidential palace on Tuesday and Friday, and the Muslim Brotherhood is planning counter-demonstrations.
The thing I fear is that if Morsi rams his constitution through, it will undermine the current government with the New Left and lead to long-term political faction-fighting, sometimes of a violent sort.