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Bellin comments on judicial tension with Morsi in Egypt

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Section: Front Page, News

November 30, 2012

Nearly two years after the fall of dictator Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian people once again flood Tahrir Square, this time in protest of their new president, Mohamed Morsi. On Nov. 22, Morsi announced that his decisions were above judicial review by the nation’s constitutional court. The decree followed highly successful political tactics where he helped negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which garnered Western support.

The constitutional assembly is poised to vote on their newly written draft for the post-Mubarak nation. The assembly has lost most of the minority parties, who have walked out. With the majority party in control, many fear that the constitution will fail to protect Egyptians’ civil liberties. Morsi’s recent decree has fueled the concern and caused an uproar from the populace. Thousands protested last Tuesday, and Friday and Saturday will see even larger protests as the constitutional assembly votes on the newly-written draft.

The supreme courts have already once used what Professor Eva Bellin (POL) called, “technicalities to declare the entire election illegitimate,” over the constitutional convention.

“The Supreme Court ruled that the parliament had been elected on illegal grounds, so the entire parliament was dissolved. Some people suspect that the Supreme Court did that because the elections had turned out such support for the Islamist parties,” Bellin said.

Morsi issued the edict, he claimed, after becoming aware that the Supreme Constitutional Court was poised on Sunday to again disband the current assembly and disrupt Egypt’s already chaotic attempt at drafting a constitution. He says that the judges, all of whom were appointed under Mubarak, are still in the pocket of the old regime.

“The argument that the Muslim Brotherhood is making is that because Mubarak appointed [the judges], they are against the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Karim Elkady (GRAD), Crown Center Ph.D. candidate and Egyptian citizen. “I don’t think this is an accurate claim. If this was the case, they could have done a lot of things more to stand against the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Bellin believes that just because they were elected under Mubarak does not mean they have strong ties. She says there are a number of liberals on the court who could hold up a constitution that they felt was too conservative. Morsi’s edict, Bellin says, is an attempt to bypass the courts in the event that the judges try to stop a document drafted by Morsi’s party, which now controls a majority of the seats in the assembly.

“He wants to see a new constitution written that cannot be rejected by the high court,” says Bellin. “The high court has among its members a number of quite outspoken individuals who are committed to liberal ideals.”

There is broad concern that the new constitution will include too much Islamic law. Morsi’s party, the Muslin Brotherhood, is a moderate conservative movement, but many feel the possibility of Sharia law will overtake the civil rights that fueled the original revolution.

After decades of civil repression under Mubarak, Egyptians fear that their civil liberties will not be protected under the new constitution. “It’s not just Sharia law,” said Bellin, “it’s protection of minority rights and civil liberties.”

Morsi’s sweeping movements had served him well in the past. When he was elected President, “He played that game very well. In a bold stroke, he removed the military leadership and took control,” said Bellin, “And in a bold move, he handled the whole Gaza-Israel issue.”

It was support from the international community, says Bellin, that made Morsi feel he had the backing to make another bold edict.

On Thursday, Morsi stressed the temporary nature of the degree, calling it necessary to achieve the “needs and objectives” of the transition to a new constitutional republic.

“The draft constitution is almost complete; we will have a draft charter that the presidency will put before a popular referendum,” he told Egyptian TV on Thursday. “If the people say yes, my constitutional declaration will no longer apply.”

What Morsi and his government did not anticipate was the popular reaction to the edict. Thousands once more swarmed Tahrir Square, the site of the revolution that ousted Mubarak almost two years ago. The Egyptian people fear that Morsi’s edict will lead to another authoritarian government, like that of former leader Mubarak.

Egyptians have come out in huge numbers to protest Morsi’s decree for fear of another authoritarian government, as well as a popular concern that Morsi’s agenda is to push through an Islamist constitution.

“Egyptians are saying he wants to make himself the new pharaoh. Even if this is temporary, there was no need for it,” Elkady said. “We were not in the middle of the big crisis. What I want is an accountable president; I want someone who I can make accountable to the law and to the constitution. We do not want president and leaders who are above the constitution and the law and think they know better.”

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