The attempt by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to rush through the new constitution while overriding the judiciary has sparked off violent confrontations between his supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood and non-Islamist activists, leading to at least five deaths in clashes outside the presidential palace on December 5.
Morsi has indicated that he intends to press ahead with plans to hold a referendum on the new constitution on December 15, despite the deep divisions in Egyptian society that his intervention in the constitutional process has caused. These divisions have extended to his own team of advisers, seven of whom have resigned in protest of the president’s measures. Zaghloul al-Balshi, the head of the committee set up to supervise the referendum, has also resigned.
The only concession Morsi has made thus far was contained in a statement by the vice-president, Mahmoud Mekki, who said that amendments to the constitution could be approved once a new parliament is elected. Morsi could offer some more concessions, for example withdrawing some of the articles in his November 22 constitutional declaration, which gave him sweeping powers. However, if he were to back down further, for example by revoking that declaration and postponing the referendum, he would risk a major loss of political credibility among his own supporters. Under the powers that he has assumed, Morsi could impose emergency security measures in an effort to enable the referendum to go ahead, but this would only serve to inflame further the anger within the opposition camp.
Morsi is likely to have calculated that he has a good chance of securing a large majority in favor of the constitution in the referendum, on the basis of his own support in the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups, the desire of neutrals for stability and the divisions in the opposition between those advocating a “no” vote and those calling for a boycott. However, any such victory would be tainted owing to the polarization of society that is clearly evident.
This post has been authored exclusively for MEV by Economist Intelligence Unit
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Pratibha Thaker is regional director, Middle East & Africa for the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).