Mass Protests in Egypt Demand Morsi Cancel Referendum
AP: The full vote was initially scheduled to take place on Dec. 15, but in a last minute Tuesday decree, Morsi ordered the voting stretched into another round on Dec. 22. Voting must be overseen by judges but the powerful judges’ union voted late Tuesday not to supervise the process, protesting an earlier and now rescinded decree by Morsi placing him above judicial oversight.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
In Egypt, the struggle between pro-Morsi forces and anti-Morsi forces continues. Thousands and thousands of people have been in the streets on both sides of the question. President Morsi initially declared powers for himself, extraordinary powers. Many people said a new Morsi dictatorship had been formed. Well, since then, Morsi has backed down on that, but he plans to continue with a referendum on a new constitution for Egypt.
And now joining us to talk about this from Cairo is Mayssoun Sukarieh. She’s a researcher and anthropologist. She writes regularly for various independent publications, such as Electronic Intifada and Counterpunch. She grew up in Lebanon. She’s now in Cairo teaching at the American University. Thanks very much for joining us.
MAYSSOUN SUKARIEH, ANTHROPOLOGIST AND RESEARCHER, CAIRO: Thank you.
JAY: So what is this struggle really about? What’s at stake here?
SUKARIEH: I don’t think I can call it or hear people call it pro- or anti-Morsi. It is more pro-democracy or anti-democracy, or it is like achieving the revolution, the aims of the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak.
PROTESTER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): He has to abolish the constitutional declaration. Dictatorship has to come to an end.
PROTESTER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): President Morsi has to go back on his decisions so that Egypt will not be divided.
PROTESTERS (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We won’t leave! Morsi must leave!
There is so much, you know, confusion, especially in the Western press, that it is represented anti/pro Morsi or it is like Islamist versus liberal parties. I think it’s a political struggle and it is over, basically, the constitution and against the reinstitution of a dictatorship in Egypt. As you said, Morsi gave himself so much power in latest decree.
How did it start? Well, it has been, like, ongoing since the summer. The Brothers have to deliver a more inclusive constituent assembly, which continue to be dominated by the Islamists. After a series of boycotts and withdrawal from many groups, such as the Christians, women, Liberals, leftists, they were left with almost no representation.
And then there was this protest in the streets [snip] to down the constituent assembly. While people were in the streets protesting the constituent assembly, Morsi issued the November 22 decree, which was the last straw for the political parties. And then he granted himself sweeping powers, as you said, and he called for a rushed referendum by December 15 on the new constitution.
The Egyptians felt that there is some sort of a political blackmailing here, that he was giving them a choice between a nonrepresentative constitution or a dictator, because the decree really grant him sweeping powers. Many refused this kind of political blackmail. So you have the leading political parties, you have many unions, professional unions, like the teachers, media, doctors, engineers, and you have the workers.
So all these groups refused this what they call political blackmailing, and they called Morsi to revoke the decree and open the constitution drafting process to broader units.
While they were in the streets, you know, the streets of Cairo were filled between, like, a pro-constitution, anti-constitution. And the last-week events of the attack by the Muslim Brotherhood on the Ittihadia protester, which shifted the demands of the opposition from the down of constituent assembly to ousting the Morsi regime.
And then Morsi supposedly called for a dialog, in which none of the political parties, the major opposition parties, agreed, because they had a condition that the constituent assembly should be revoked and then they will go for dialog. He refused this. And then there was some sort of fake dialog, in which he brought Islamist the parties, and who are not representative of the opposition, led by Salim Al-Awa, who is an Islamist himself, who was also responsible for drafting the constitution in Sudan, which led to the separation of Southern Sudan. So this was, like, considered, like, a blow by the opposition.
JAY: What are the provisions in the new constitution that people are objecting to mostly?
SUKARIEH: Every group has different objections. So, for example, the women–it takes out women’s rights. But economically the workers are against the Constitution because it takes out the right of unionizing. It allows a business owner, for example, to dismiss a worker in certain cases [snip] that the right to work is not guaranteed by the Constitution.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We have not received our salaries for 11 months. The investor is intransigent. When we ask for pay, he expels some of us.
SUKARIEH: And then you have, for example, children’s rights groups are against it because it unashamedly legalizes child labor. So there is an Article 67 that allows the employment of children in the age of compulsory education–in jobs, they say, suitable for their age, but what does that mean? Like, you know, there is this conflict over this.
And then you have, concerning the right to work, Article 57 has failed to place any obligation on the state to safeguard the right to work through the creation of job opportunities for job seekers. But at the same time, it stated that the state should guarantee [incompr.] safe working condition. It doesn’t specify rules for a business owner.
JAY: President Morsi has made–it seems like a fairly friendly accommodation with the United States. They’re giving him, I think, something like $1 billion of loan forgiveness. About half of that’s going to be cash. He’s making a deal with the IMF, I think, for something more than $4 billion. So what is Morsi’s relationship to the United States, to the elite of Egypt, to the military?
SUKARIEH: Part of the struggle in the streets also is, like, the opposition feels that Morsi is still taking his legitimacy from international powers, like the U.S., and then, of course, the Gulf states. As you know, and unlike what is known in the U.S., the political Islam has been an ally for the Americans to some extent.
JAY: We know Central Command is located just a little bit out of Doha in Qatar. There’s a very close alliance there.
SUKARIEH: For the U.S., they would like to see some sort of a Muslim Brotherhood power that gives them, like, all the economic, still, privileges in Egypt, and at the same time does not object to the U.S. policies in the region and does not allow for a real opposition for U.S. policies. Last week, Obama tried to push the opposition to go for an unconditional dialog, which was seen by the opposition parties as a stark intervention in a country where–just came out from a revolution. So this is one. And then, well, as you said, like, economically, the Muslim Brotherhood’s policies are a carbon copy of the Mubarak policies.
After the revolution, there is a group of activists started an anti-IMF loans, like, or, you know, a group to remove the loans, the IMF loans, on the basis that the loans were given to a dictator who did not use them for public interest, but for his own interest and to consolidate his power.
JAY: Okay. Thanks very much for joining us. And we’ll come back to you after the referendum and dig more into these events. Thanks for joining us.
And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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