On November 26, I asked many demonstrators in the heart of Tahrir Square in Cairo: Why not wait for the next elections to topple the Muslim Brotherhood through the ballot box? And all said: These people [will] never [be] brought down by ballot box.
Since that day, the new rulers of Egypt have demonstrated a show bloody enough to remind Egyptians and the rest of the world of the nightmares of the rise of Nazism through ballot boxes, 79 years ago. Bloody attacks on rivals demonstrating in streets, severe hostility to freedom of expression and the result: Civilian clashes resulting in the deaths of 11 so far.
The battle over the new constitution in Egypt reveals that Egyptians have toppled the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, but the revolution was stolen by the religious twin of the Mubarak-era dictatorship through the ballot box unfortunately. Egyptians faced an unpleasant trade-off in the presidential elections last year: continuation of the Mubarak era or rule by the Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptians were divided even within the historic bloc of those who wanted change. While the old generation in this bloc voted for Ahmad Shafiq, the younger ones voted for Mohammad Mursi. And now, with the draft of the new constitution, warning bells have been sounded for many Egyptians.
Stoking the fear of a return to dictatorship, 29 articles give the president broader powers, including control over the judiciary. The new constitution eliminates state support for education and health and all other social gains for workers. When this happens in a country like Egypt, with a high rate of poverty and long-held commitment of the state towards social justice, it simply offers additional reasons for a revolt all over again.
Privatisation? Maybe it is a soft term to describe a new social engineering awaiting poor Egyptians. Can this trend in the new constitution explain why the US is remaining silent over it for the last two weeks, even as protesters were falling in the streets? Well, it is obvious that eliminating state support to education and health care are just a response to donor conditions the World Bank in particular and last Friday, Yousuf Al Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric based in Qatar, put it quite clearly: Voting No would deprive Egypt of a $20 billion (Dh73.56 billion) aid from Qatar. Earlier, on December 9, President Mursi had declared an increase in prices of some commodities, but scrapped the order the other day. Many believe that was just a move to gain votes in the battle over the constitution. Price rise, in any case, is inevitable.
Egyptians today are not just worried about social justice; they are also concerned about their freedom. People raised their voices following the bloody crackdown on demonstrators by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists in clashes last week. The clashes offered Egyptians a clear picture of what to expect in the days ahead under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. A new dictatorship, an ideological one, worse than that of the previous regime, looms before Egypt.
No matter what the result of the referendum is, only a worse scenario awaits Egypt. The younger generation who sparked the revolution on January 25, 2011, was not aiming to replace the dictatorship of Mubarak with that of the Muslim brotherhood. Poor Egyptians who were at the heart of that revolution would never have thought about living under privatisation of health care and education and such other conditions imposed by the World Bank and other donors. Educated Egyptians, the middle class and intellectuals would never have given up their liberties and freedom of expression. The Egyptian judicial establishment would not have accepted any diminution of its independence.
And what about the army? Most Egyptians are betting on it, but what many do not know is that the army sided with the revolution in 2011 to put an end to a long dispute with Mubarak about bequeathing the presidency to his son. The army at that time was opposed to a civilian president. Maybe, avoiding a civil war will be a good reason for the army to interfere now, but it will be a very hard choice indeed, so long as the US is backing the Muslim Brotherhood regime. In the last few weeks, Muslim Brotherhood has made it amply clear that it will not give up the power for which it had to wait for 84 years. Maybe those young Egyptians at Tahrir Square are right
A version published December 18 2012 in Gulf News