LIGNET INSIDER REPORT
In an exclusive interview with LIGNET, Egyptian parliament member Ahmed Said described Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s decision last week to place his decisions above judicial rule as “the most serious and dangerous political decision” made since the beginning of the Egyptian revolution. Ahmed sees this crisis as crucial to Egypt’s democratic transition and believes it is forcing Islamists to decide whether they want to be integrated into Egyptian society. Ahmed Said spoke with LIGNET this morning by phone from Cairo, Egypt. Said is a prominent Egyptian businessman and political leader. He is also a member of the Egyptian Parliament and founder of the free Egyptian political party. Said was clear that the decision by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi last week to place his decisions above judicial review was a severe threat to Egypt’s path to democracy. Said said that Morsi’s decisions represented one to two steps backward for political freedom in Egypt and had split the country’s political movements. Said indicated he was happy and excited at the size of the demonstrations that began after Morsi issued his decree last Thursday. He noted that many Egyptians offered food and water to the demonstrators which he described as an immediate reaction by the Egyptian people who are demanding freedom and democracy. According to Said, Morsi’s decision was an attempt to make a constitution-writing assembly immune to any kind of judicial action. He noted that the courts were scheduled to rule on legal challenges to this assembly on December 2. Said suspects the courts were about to rule the assembly as illegal and said that it was not being conducted on a fair basis. This is the second body convened to write a new Egyptian constitution. The first body was invalidated by the courts last April when non-Muslim minority groups brought legal challenges contending that it was tilted against them. Islamists and secularists have launched sharp verbal attacks over the drafting of a new Egyptian constitution. Although the full document has not yet been released, both sides are criticizing portions that have been leaked. Liberals are upset about text that appears to curtail women’s rights and promote Sharia law, while Islamists have complained that the draft constitution provides for too many personal freedoms and does not have enough Sharia law provisions. Numerous legal challenges have been brought against the current constitution-drafting process. The assembly’s remaining non-Islamist participants withdrew from the body on November 24 in response to Morsi’s power-grabbing decree. Egypt’s judges rejected Morsi’s decree to place his decisions above judicial review and called for a strike by judges and prosecutors. Over the weekend, Morsi appeared to reach out to the judiciary and the judges called off the strike. Said noted that Morsi was meeting with judiciary representatives today. Said believes that although the results of these meetings are unknown, he is worried about their outcome because there is no history of Egyptian leaders backing down in situations like this. He is very concerned that Morsi’s actions look very much like those of the old regime and are an attempt by Morsi to consolidate his power. Nevertheless, Said still thinks Morsi will probably change his mind because the country has reached a political crisis that cannot be resolved without concessions by the president. Said is unsure, however, whether concessions that the president might make will be enough or will be acceptable to the Egyptian opposition. When asked about the outlook for Egypt in light of the president’s decree, Said declared that he was very optimistic and very excited that these developments are taking place. He indicated that these developments were inevitable and reflect a transition that is necessary for the Egyptian political culture as well as the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist religious factions. According to Said, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists have to make an important decision. For years, they were underground and brutally oppressed by the Mubarak regime. They now need to indicate whether they want to be integrated into Egyptian society. Said believes the Islamists must decide that they will be part of Egypt, and not that Egypt must be part of them.