The new constitutional crisis in Egypt is a sign that the Arab spring is far from over. It is a good example of the underlying political tensions that still exist in Middle Eastern states.
At present, secular and pro-democratic forces, the military, and Islamic parties are vying for power in Egypt with nervous Western states watching from afar. The lingering question is, what will Egypt look like and what will it become if President Mohamad Morsi succeeds in pushing through this new constitution? Unless the opposition or the military is able to stop it, the fear is that it will erase the progress Egyptians have made so far.
President Mohamad Morsi’s recent maneuvers for a referendum vote on Saturday, as well as his secretive tactics, has enraged and mobilized the opposition. As Thomas Friedman at the New York Times points out, the newly liberated Egyptian people will not sit back and let this happen without a fight, especially after Tahrir Square showed the power of protest. Moreover, it is unimaginable that a constitution being rammed through with little warning can be taken seriously. And since the Egyptian people have come so far in the progress they have made, it would be a shame to see Morsi erase that progress now.
And what would Morsi’s constitution mean for Egyptians? For one, there would be an Islamisation of the country. An example is the application of Sunni jurisprudence to the judicial process. But perhaps a more problematic aspect is the enhancement of presidential powers, a reverse to the progress of freedom made since the removal of Mubarak.
The army’s own role in the new unrest is uncertain, after a recent about-face over planned talks with the opposition. While tanks and soldiers are currently protecting the presidential palace, it remains to be seen whether the army will accept Morsi’s power play, join the democratic opposition, or make an attempt to regain power for itself.
So, without the army’s support, the opposition is lacking an extremely powerful ally. What is even more disheartening is the lack of participation by Egyptian labor and a lack of strikes. The original Egyptian revolution was just as much a result of Egyptian labor’s actions as it was of the protestors in Tahrir Square. And without the firm backing of and action by organized labor, the opposition is without one of its most powerful allies.
With all of this in mind, it seems that the opposition’s decision to vote "no" in the referendum on Saturday is a decision made with their backs up against the wall. Indeed, the idea of a boycott has been rejected and most likely because the lack of unity within the opposition combined with mixed participation would mean a victory for President Morsi’s referendum.
The most worrying aspect has been the difficulty the opposition has had in reaching the average Egyptian. The Muslim Brotherhood’s network and popular support is extensive due to community and charity work. But despite the public image, Morsi’s attempts to push through this new constitution are a serious threat to Egypt’s recent progress.