Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi recently met leaders of several political groups to discuss a draft of the proposed new constitution as part of an attempt to bridge a growing gap between his administration and the opposition.
The rift between Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government and a range of secular opposition groups has been widening since he took office at the end of June
Morsi’s opponents fear his policies are weak on issues such as social and economic equality, human and minority rights, and swift justice for those killed or injured during Egypt’s revolution.
Opponents also fear that Brotherhood partisans dominate new government appointments and membership of Constituent Assembly (CA), the committee writing the new constitution, making it unable to give Egypt a balanced and representative constitution that can gain political consensus.
Two weeks ago, political tension reached worrying levels, when protesters supporting the Brotherhood clashed with demonstrators from opposition groups in Tahri Square.
Opposition to Morsi and the Brotherhood is led by various secular parties including the Constitution Party (CP), headed by Former UN nuclear agency chief, Mohamed Elbaradei, and the Popular Current (PC), led by former presidential candidate, Hamdeen Sabahi. Both groups did not to attend a meeting last Wednesday where various parties were discussing the new constitution.
What seems particularly troubling to Morsi is that even some of his former allies are joining the opposition ranks.
Hasan Nafeah, a political science professor in Cairo University, is a member of the National Front (NF), an ad-hoc alliance of prominent Egyptian intellectuals and activists who endorsed Morsi’s presidential campaign giving him much needed support from outside the Muslim Brotherhood’s religious power base.
Today, Nafeah and other members of his group feel betrayed. The Muslim Brotherhood “didn’t do what we agreed with them on”, he told Al Jazeera.
Before he was announced winner, Morsi had agreed to several demands, including appointing a national unity government led by a known political figure and promoting more liberal and leftist figures to membership of the Constituent Assembly (CA).
“I prefer the appointment of a new cabinet” said Nafeah. “A cabinet made of heavyweight political leaders who can share power with president Morsi and give the impression that a national unity government exists.”
Nafeah fears a looming crisis over the constitution, warning that “Muslim Brotherhood policies open the door for a military coup.
The idea of national unity government may sound like a good suggestion to overcome political differences and to bring the Muslim Brotherhood and their opponents together. Yet, it faces several obstacles.
Egypt has been in a constitutional limbo for more than 20 months since the revolution that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.
The CA chairman says a new constitution will be ready by the third week of November. This means Egypt should get ready for a referendum and new parliament elections soon thereafter.
The tight schedule allows a short time for a political dialogue for formation of a national unity cabinet. More importantly, groups like the CP and PC, which are leading the opposition to President Morsi are against the idea of joining his administration. They believe their agendas are too different for the MB’s to join forces with them.
“We will not have representation in any political institution led by the Muslim Brotherhood unless we are elected to it,” says Hossam Moanis, spokesperson of the PC. “We refuse to be appointed to any government institution by Muslim Brotherhood leaders because our social and economic agendas are different from theirs”
Moanis complains that Morsi did not achieve “anything” when it comes to top issues on PC’s political agenda, such as defining clear policies to achieve social justice; bringing justice to those killed during the revolution; and balancing the political make-up of the CA.
Emad Abu Ghazi, the general trustee of the CP, says his party’s focus is on drafting a new constitution. “We don’t right now have ideas about joining Morsi’s cabinet,” he said.
Abou Ghazi said his party had been in talks with PC and others over how to provide alternatives to current CA, which they think is not representative of all Egyptians and cannot produce a constitution that can gain wide public approval and political consensus.
Under pressure, both Morsi and the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party have announced initiatives for a dialogue.
Saif AlDeen Abdel Fatah, a presidential adviser, told Al Jazeera that Morsi would be engaging in dialogue sessions with the various groups and political forces.
He said the negotiations would seek to “build trust” and “unite pro-revolution forces.”He hoped the “views of many of the political forces regarding the new constitution will be incorporated in the draft to avoid disagreement.”
“The Muslim Brotherhood has to understand that not all criticism is an attack on Egypt and them. Some opposition groups have to understand that new president was elected by the people and he is not the Mubarak regime.”
Abdel Fatah even suggested the idea of approving “a temporary constitution.”
Helmy AlGazar, a senior leader of the Freedom and Justice Party, told Al Jazeera that his party would be launching soon a political dialogue initiative independent form that of the president. But he seemed to neither agree to the idea of changing the makeup of the constituent assembly nor to the suggestion of agreeing to a temporary constitution.
“Dialogue will not be over the make-up of the CA because the assembly is independent and no one has the power to change its members… the idea of a temporary constitution is not suggested inside the CA.”
Moataz Abdel Fatah, a political science professor at Cairo University and an adviser to former Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, felt hardline opponents of Morsi were making “political rather than legal” demands.
“Some times the president is not against the demands. He just needs time,” he said.
Wael Khaleel, a leftist activist and a member of the Human Rights Council, blamed both the Muslim Brotherhood and their opponents for the polarisation. “Unwavering support to president and unwavering opposition is the problem.”
“The MB has to understand that not all criticism is an attack on Egypt and them. Some opposition groups have to understand that the new president was elected by the people and he is not the Mubarak regime.”
“There are moderates inside each political group and they have to be empowered,” Khaleel suggested. But that’s easier said than done in Egypt’s current polarised environment.