It seemed to many that President Mohammed Morsi was paving the way for his own dictatorship at the end of November when he issued a game-changing constitutional declaration radically expanding his authority, and further deepening the divide in an already polarized society.
The seven-article declaration effectively immunized all presidential decisions from formal oversight, whether parliamentary or judicial. Following the declaration, Muslim Brotherhood offices around the country were ransacked and thousands flocked to Tahrir Square denouncing the move, while others rallied at the presidential palace in support of Morsi. As Executive went to print, both Morsi supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood and opposition figures were rallying Egyptians to the streets for mass protests.
What Morsi’s detractors see is a power grab, with articles in the declaration ominously reminiscent of deposed President Hosni Mubarak’s notorious emergency law under which arbitrary arrests were common on the pretense of protecting national security. Morsi supporters say his declaration is a necessary measure to protect the revolution and preserve national stability.
Either way, it caps off a year beset by turmoil. The unrest of 2011 continued straight into 2012 when, on February 1, fans of the Al Masry football club attacked fans of the rival Al Ahly club in Port Said Stadium, killing 74 and injuring thousands. Accusations abounded that the security services had been complicit in the massacre. Anger amplified towards the then de-facto rulers of the country, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), triggering a vicious cycle of public protests and violent repression, which resulted in at least 11 further deaths.
The country then shifted attention to the first free election for a head of state since the end of Mubarak’s 30-year autocratic rule. The Presidential Elections Committee, however, disqualified some of the most prominent candidates mid-campaign, spurring another round of protests that left at least 10 dead when Salafi candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail was barred from running.
SCAF then weighed in, dissolving parliament — based on a Supreme Constitutional Court ruling that the 2011 parliamentary elections were unconstitutional — and then issuing a constitutional declaration broadening its powers and stripping the president’s office of much of its executive authority, only hours before the preliminary election results were announced. Somewhere in the middle of all this, Mubarak ‘awoke’ from a questionable coma to begin serving a life sentence in prison. All this, on top of an ailing economy, lax security and widening fractures between the country’s different factions.
Sadly, hopes of seeing old regime elements purged from Egypt’s different institutions after Morsi took the presidential oath were short-lived. While among his first orders of business was to replace Hussein Tantawi, head of the armed forces, and the chief of staff, Sami Anan, as well as to cancel SCAF’s constitutional declaration, these ‘bold moves’ were seen by many as the outcome of closed-door deals guaranteeing SCAF’s ‘safe exit’.
Morsi has since faced a series of domestic crises — the most painful of which was a bus crash south of Cairo that took the lives of 49 schoolchildren in early November — to which he was generally seen to have reacted poorly, and he has largely failed to live up to the ambitious 100-day program he set for himself.
Even some of the most basic human rights and standards of transparency, which were expected to take hold after the revolution and set the new Egypt apart from its predecessor, still seem out of reach. Human rights groups criticize the current government’s unwillingness to abandon repressive tools and guarantee citizen rights in the draft constitution. A report prepared by El Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, assessing Morsi’s first 100-days in office, says that arbitrary arrests, torture and ill-treatment of citizens continued unabated.
Morsi’s recent declaration, however, does reopen investigations into the crimes against protesters last year. This, on top of foreign policy successes — most notably helping to broker the ceasefire which ended Israel’s recent assault on Gaza — are among the new president’s few shining achievements in the eyes of Egyptians. Thus, with the second anniversary of the January 25 Revolution approaching, many wonder whether the shadow of another pharaoh looms over Egypt. With little positive change materializing on the ground, the same chants will likely echo through Tahrir Square in future months, with people still demanding “bread, freedom and social justice.”
Dalia Rabie is a Cairo-based journalist