Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians mobilized across the country in opposition to the looming constitutional referendum on Tuesday. Short distances away, supporters of the president also mobilized in large numbers. The referendum is planned for this Saturday, December 15.
The exact numbers for either side weren’t yet available as this was written but it is clear that the political crisis hasn’t eased for President Mohammad Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood from which he hails.
It did look at first like he might have been thrown a lifeline as the State Council Judges’ Club – sort of a union of judges - indicated that Egypt’s judges would oversee the referendum. However, general assemblies of judges’ clubs across the country soon voted by about 90% to refuse to supervise the vote.
The depth of the crisis was evidenced by constant flipflops and contradictory announcements by the government in recent days. At the weekend it was leaked by a presidential aide that Morsy would delay the vote. Then, apparently after the intervention of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership, this was reversed and the vote would go ahead as planned though the original decree granting Morsy near-absolute power was rescinded.
On Sunday Morsy’ office announced a series of tax increases in line with the austerity plans required for Egypt to receive a loan from the IMF. Within hours, at 2am Monday, this was reversed with Morsy’s office saying that first there would need to be “societal consultations” on the taxes. Again, the rumours are that the Brotherhood, through their political wing, the Freedom & Justice Party, had intervened. The reason? It would be hard to win the referendum vote if their support base had just seen further dramatic rises in the price of numerous consumer goods, following on from recent eliminations of fuel subsidies.
Finally, on Tuesday, the Minister of Defense, announced plans to hold a “national dialogue” for unity on Wednesday inviting political groups, youth, sports figures, etc. without the consultation of the president. Then the president’s office said this was a mistake and wasn’t happening. Then the Muslim Brotherhood announced that it would be attending followed by more confusion as to whether it was happening and who was behind it.
As of Tuesday night, with protests continuing and at least one railroad blockaded by anti-referendum protestors in Mansoura and rumours that at least one district would bar voting boxes, the government announced that the referendum would go ahead. However, because of a lack of judges it would happen over two Saturdays. Strangely, they also stated that the vote results from the first half of the referendum would be announced before the second half takes place, fatally undermining the democratic credibility.
Into this volatile mix has been thrown Morsy’s decrees giving the military the power to arrest though later, in a partial reversal it was announced that those arrested would be tried in civilian courts. This won’t sit well with a population that has recently overthrown a military dictatorship. Nor will Morsy’s decree extending his control over the central bank at a time when his centralization of power has mobilized millions against his government.
No matter what happens with the vote - if it goes ahead - this government is now mortally wounded and the hopes of the revolution of 2011 have been revived.