In the long view of history, the vote last Thursday by the United Nations General Assembly may come to be regarded as a belated and merely preliminary step to Palestinian statehood. But the overwhelming vote to grant Palestine the status of a nonmember observer state (the same status that the Vatican, for example, enjoys in the UN system) was greeted by jubilation in the various parts of fragmented Palestine, and seen as historic around the world.
It was, in truth, a genuine milestone—all the more real, and affecting, for being decades in the making.
By an overwhelming margin of 138 countries in favor and 9 against, with 41 abstentions (and 5 absences), the General Assembly began to right an injustice that had rankled for generations; overnight, millions of Palestinians could imagine themselves becoming members in good standing of the worldwide UN community in their own lifetime.
It was a “birth certificate” for modern Palestine, Agence France Presse quoted Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas as saying, and we think the embattled Abbas got it right. Indeed, his use of the pregnant phrase hinted at both limit and possibility. The birth of Palestine as a separate, independent state is something the international community must come to terms with; that is a fact that in the end cannot be denied. But many questions remain, including the issue of paternity (the moderate Abbas is locked in a power struggle with the radical Hamas group, which controls the Gaza strip) and the issue of inheritance (like Israel, Palestine’s claim to sovereignty is hundreds of years old).
The vote itself showed the limits and possibilities of the UN system. It demonstrated the extent of isolation that Israel now suffers on account of the belligerent policies of the Netanyahu government; only nine countries voted against the resolution, led by Israel and its principal ally, the United States. (Canada also voted against.) Israel may have expected its major European allies to stand fast, but none of them voted against the resolution. Britain and Germany abstained, while France voted for the upgrade in Palestinian status.
Among the Asean countries, only Singapore voted differently, opting to abstain. The nine other member-states voted in favor, with the Indonesian foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, playing a prominent role in the deliberations, in keeping with his country’s status as the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation. “No longer can the world turn a blind eye to the long sufferings of the Palestinian people, the denial of their basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, the obstruction of their rights to self-determination and to independence,” Natalegawa said.
But the vote took place in the General Assembly; the Security Council, where the real power lies, and the United States is one of five countries with a veto, is a completely different matter. Last year, a Palestinian attempt to seek full membership was blocked by the United States.
Nevertheless, the grant of Palestine’s new status is a genuine breakthrough, and was seen by many countries as a diplomatic initiative precisely to jumpstart the stalled peace process. By approving the resolution granting nonmember observer state status to Palestine, Natalegawa said, “we are signalling the primacy of diplomacy and rejection of violence.”
We are happy to note that the Philippines voted for the resolution.
The country’s ties to Israel are both robust and long-standing. As a Commonwealth, the Philippines granted safe haven to Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazi forces; in 1948, the country was among the first to recognize the modern state of Israel. And our democratic project has learned much over the years from the Israeli experience.
But on the fundamental question of diplomatic recognition of a sovereign people, we must stand with Palestine.
The spokesman of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez, explained the Philippine vote in a succinct text message: “The Philippines supports Palestine’s quest for self-rule and self-determination and we hope that one day an independent Palestine may live side by side in peace with its neighbors.”
The vote, we all hope, should bring that day ever closer.
The writer is president and chief executive officer of Human Rights First.
During my 25 years as a lawyer and human rights advocate, I’ve been in many courtrooms in many places. But I’ve never seen anything quite like what I recently witnessed in Bahrain. I sat in on one of the hearings for the 28 medics being prosecuted after treating injured protesters during the democratic uprising last year.
In the chaotic courtroom, the judge dismissed arguments by defense lawyers that their clients had been tortured. That’s when Nabeel Tammam, one of Bahrain’s leading ear, nose and throat specialists, raised his hand and asked for permission to speak. Seemingly mistaking him for one of the defense lawyers, the judge acknowledged Tammam, who spoke the words he had not been allowed to say publicly before any Bahraini judicial authority since his detention in 2011: “My name is Nabeel Tammam. I am one of the medics, and I was tortured.” Tammam described what he suffered at the hands of government officials; the judge quickly ended the hearing.
If this is what the rule of law looks like in Bahrain, I thought, no wonder the country is in crisis.
It has been one year since the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), a body set up to investigate the events surrounding the uprising, issued its report. The BICI confirmed what Human Rights First and other international nongovernmental organizations had been saying for months: that the government had swept up thousands in illegal arrests, used excessive force against protesters and engaged in a pattern of abuse that resulted in at least four prisoners being tortured to death.
To his credit, King Hamad accepted the report’s recommendations and promised to implement them. Several Bahraini government ministers I met pointed proudly to a new police code of conduct and a special office to prosecute human rights abuses. But the people on the receiving end of the policing and justice systems in Bahrain told me that these “paper reforms” have meant next to nothing in the real world. If anything, they say, police conduct has worsened, and the judicial system remains hopelessly politicized.
No senior government figure has been held accountable for last year’s arrests or deaths in custody. Political prisoners remain in jail. All public gatherings have been banned, and last month three men were sent to prison for criticizing the king on Twitter.
Public protests are growing increasingly violent. In recent months, a pattern of clashes involving police and a small minority of protesters has emerged, leaving people dead on both sides. Since the BICI report, the government has imprisoned leading activists, including Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. His colleague Said Yousif told me, “They’re picking off figures in civil society, those who speak out against the government. The Bassiouni report has changed nothing. We’re not seeing any sign of real reform here.” The government recently took Yousif into custody.
Meanwhile, the United States has been conflicted about what to do in Bahrain. The tiny island country in the Persian Gulf hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, and the conventional wisdom is that this prevents the U.S. from criticizing the regime too openly. But the U.S.’ “carrots-only” strategy of trying to bolster reformers in the royal family has not worked. The conventional wisdom has it backward; precisely because of the 5th Fleet’s presence, no other country has a greater stake in seeing a peaceful transition to democracy there. And that requires the United States to find its voice.
Tammam and the other 27 medics received their verdicts on Nov. 21. Five were acquitted while Tammam and 22 others were convicted and sentenced to three months in jail.
The United States, which has sent observers to the medics’ trials, should state publicly what it says in private: The trials fall far short of international standards. This should be part of a more muscular U.S. approach toward its ally.
In a region where threats to U.S. interests abound, it may be tempting for the Obama administration to conclude that, while not ideal, the status quo in Bahrain is tolerable for now. That would be a mistake. There is no status quo in Bahrain. The situation is deteriorating, and pro-democracy activists are growing more desperate. There will either be reform, or a descent into worsening violence. The United States may not be able to control the outcome, but — for its own strategic interests and the good of the Bahraini people — it must do everything it can to persuade the regime to choose the right path.
The Obama administration and its support for democratic change in the Middle East has been on a collision course with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other traditional monarchies of the Persian Gulf. The crunch finally came this week with a sharp break over how to deal with protests in Bahrain.
The stakes in this latest crisis are high, even by Middle East standards, for it contains all the region’s volatile ingredients: tension between Saudis and Iranians, between Sunni Muslims and Shiites, and between democratic reformers and status-quo powers. Underlying this combustible mixture is the world’s most important strategic commodity, Persian Gulf oil. How’s that for a witch’s brew?
U.S. officials have been arguing that Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy must make political compromises to give more power to the Shiite majority there. The most emphatic statement came last weekend from Defense Secretary Bob Gates, who said during a visit to Bahrain that its “baby steps” toward reform weren’t enough and that the kingdom should step up its negotiations with the opposition.
This American enthusiasm for change has been anathema to the conservative regimes of the Gulf, and on Monday they backed Bahrain’s ruling Khalifa family with military force, marching about 2,000 troops up the causeway that links Bahrain to Saudi Arabia. A senior Saudi official told me the intervention was needed to protect Bahrain’s financial district and other key facilities from violent demonstrations. He warned that radical, Iranian-backed leaders were becoming more active in the protests.
“We don’t want Iran 14 miles off our coast, and that’s not going to happen,” said the Saudi official. U.S. officials counter that Iran, so far, has been only a minor player in the Bahrain protests and that Saudi military intervention could backfire by strengthening Iran’s hand.
“There is a serious breach” between the Gulf countries and Washington over the issue, warned a second Saudi official. “We’re not going in [to Bahrain] to shoot people, we’re going in to keep a system in place,” he said.
The Bahrain issue is the most important U.S.-Saudi disagreement in decades, and it could signal a fundamental change in policy. The Obama administration, in effect, is altering America’s long-standing commitment to the status quo in the Gulf, believing that change in Bahrain — as in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya — is inevitable and desirable.
The split reflects fundamental differences in strategic outlook. The Gulf regimes have come to mistrust Obama, seeing him as a weak president who will sacrifice traditional allies in his eagerness to be “on the right side of history.” They liken Obama’s rejection of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt to Jimmy Carter’s 1979 abandonment of the shah of Iran.
The crackup was predicted by a top UAE sheik in a February meeting with two visiting former U.S. officials. According to notes made during the conversation, the UAE official said: “We and the Saudis will not accept a Shiite government in Bahrain. And if your president says to the Khalifas what he said to Mubarak [to leave office], it will cause a break in our relationship with the U.S.” The UAE official warned that Gulf nations were “looking East” — to China, India and Turkey — for alternative security assistance.
The Obama White House hasn’t yielded to such pleas and threats from the Gulf. U.S. officials believe the Saudis and others have no good option to the United States as a guarantor of security. They note that military and intelligence contacts are continuing, despite the sharp disagreement over Bahrain.
In the end, this is a classic liberal-conservative argument about how best to achieve stability. The White House believes that security crackdowns won’t work any better in Bahrain than they did in Egypt or Tunisia — and that it’s time to embrace a process of democratic transition across the region. The Gulf monarchies and sheikdoms counter that concessions will only empower more radicalism — and that the big beneficiaries, in the end, will be Islamic radicals in Iran and al-Qaeda.
The trick is finding a formula for transition that doesn’t destabilize the Gulf and the global economy. White House officials talk as if this is an evolutionary process, but they should know better: As they saw in Egypt, change comes as a sudden shock — a nonlinear event that, in the case of the Gulf, will affect global energy and financial markets. Obama’s goal should be “progressive pragmatism,” with an emphasis on both those words.
Israel advances controversial plans to build in West Bank’s E-1 area
By Joel Greenberg, Dec 05, 2012 09:41 PM EST
The Washington Post Thursday, December 6, 5:41 AM
JERUSALEM — Defying mounting international protests, Israel moved ahead Wednesday with plans for a West Bank settlement project near Jerusalem that has been widely condemned as diminishing prospects for a territorially viable Palestinian state.
An Israeli planning committee approved release of the plan for public objections, a first step in a process that could take months and is subject to government approval before building can begin.
Still, the move demonstrated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s determination to advance the project, part of a settlement construction surge announced last week in response to a successful bid by the Palestinians to upgrade their status at the United Nations to that of a nonmember observer state.
Israeli commentators have suggested that Netanyahu’s reaction was driven largely by domestic political considerations, casting it as an effort to appeal to rightist voters ahead of parliamentary elections next month. His challengers have accused him of deepening Israel’s diplomatic isolation.
The United States and other nations have criticized the settlement building plans as undermining efforts to reach a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Eleven countries, including key European nations and Egypt, have summoned Israeli ambassadors this week to lodge formal protests.
The Palestinian leadership decided Tuesday to seek a binding resolution at the U.N. Security Council requiring Israel to halt its settlement drive, which includes building 3,000 homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas that the Palestinians seek as part of a future state.
U.S. and European officials have expressed particular alarm over a parallel move to advance plans for additional construction of more than 3,000 homes in a key West Bank area known as E-1, east of Jerusalem, connecting the city with the large settlement of Maaleh Adumim.
Successive U.S. administrations have strongly opposed the development, saying that it would drive a wedge between the northern and southern West Bank, undermining the possibility of a geographically contiguous Palestinian state.
Israel suspended work in the E-1 zone several years ago under pressure from the United States, although it has built its West Bank police headquarters there, as well as roads and infrastructure for future housing.
Israeli intentions to build in E-1 date to the 1990s, with successive governments viewing the area as a land reserve for the eventual expansion of Maaleh Adumim, linking it to Jerusalem. Israel has long considered the settlement town of 40,000 to be a Jerusalem suburb that should remain under Israeli control in any agreement with the Palestinians.
But the Palestinians see E-1 as a vital hinterland for East Jerusalem, which they seek as their future capital. They consider the zone, 3,000 acres of barren hills populated by Bedouin shepherds, as a potential part of East Jerusalem’s metropolitan area, linked to Ramallah in the north and Bethlehem in the south, forming the urban core of a future state.
On Wednesday, the planning council of the Israeli military administration in the West Bank approved “the deposit of plans” for the E-1 development for public objections, according to a statement from the Israeli Defense Ministry. “These are not building permits,” the statement said. “The start of construction requires approval by the political echelon.”
Netanyahu, who was in Germany on Wednesday for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, made the same point in an interview with the newspaper Die Welt. “What we’ve advanced so far is only planning, and we will have to see,” he said, according to an excerpt of his remarks provided by his spokesman. “We shall act further based on what the Palestinians do. If they don’t act unilaterally, then we won’t have any purpose to do so either.”
Speaking to reporters in Ramallah, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the E-1 project a “red line” and said Palestinians would fight it with all “legal means” at their disposal.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, warned of dire consequences if Israel follows through with its plans for construction in E-1 and in a West Bank area annexed to Jerusalem known as Givat Hamatos. Israeli building in the latter area, expected to be approved this month, would further separate the West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to Palestinian officials.
If the two developments are built, “it’s over,” Erekat told Israel Television in remarks broadcast Tuesday.
“Don’t talk about peace. Don’t talk about a two-state solution,” Erekat said. “Talk about a one-state reality between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean.”
In Egypt, protests turn violent as political crisis intensifies
By Abigail Hauslohner and Stephanie McCrummen, Dec 05, 2012 11:25 PM EST
The Washington Post Updated: Thursday, December 6, 7:25 AM
CAIRO — Supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi clashed with opposition protesters outside the presidential palace Wednesday in the fiercest violence of the country’s two-week political crisis, pelting each other with stones and Molotov cocktails and intensifying the pressure on Egypt’s embattled new government.
Three of Morsi’s advisers resigned Wednesday evening over the conflict, which has pitted Egypt’s first democratically elected president and his Islamist backers against a broad coalition of liberals, secularists, human rights activists and loyalists to the old regime. Analysts and protesters said the deepening crisis could soon provoke intervention by the country’s military.
Each side accused the other of stoking the violence outside the palace, which health officials said left more than 120 people injured. Eyewitnesses said that at least three people were killed in the unrest.
Clashes also broke out Wednesday night near the Cairo headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is closely allied with Morsi, and in several other major northern cities. Prime Minister Hesham Kandil called on both sides to restore calm.
The opposition is demanding that Morsi rescind a Nov. 22 decree that granted him sweeping powers to legislate without oversight and that he abandon a contentious draft constitution that he has pushed toward a national referendum next week. A disparate group of opposition leaders vowed Wednesday to widen their protest until Morsi backs down.
But Vice President Mahmoud Mekki said the protesters would not derail the referendum. “No political faction can think that they alone monopolize the opinion and have the majority,” he said at a Wednesday news conference. “The judge is the ballot box.”
The United States has refused to criticize Morsi publicly since the crisis began. But U.S. officials said Wednesday that they are working behind the scenes to persuade his government to meet with opposition forces to discuss the draft constitution, which critics say does not protect the rights of women, minorities or the press.
“We call on all stakeholders in Egypt to settle their differences through democratic dialogue, and we call on Egypt’s leaders to ensure that the outcome protects the democratic promise of the revolution for all of Egypt’s citizens,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday.
Pressure on the military
But the more divided and violent the situation becomes, the more the pressure will grow on the nation’s military — which currently enjoys a good relationship with Morsi — to take sides, said Robert Springborg, an expert on the Egyptian military at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.
The army has traditionally enjoyed wide popular support in Egyptian society and, for a time, was seen as siding with protesters during the revolution that brought down Hosni Mubarak in 2011. But that support faded during a tumultuous 18-month transition period, when Egypt’s top generals ran the country and were accused by rights groups of using violence to quell protests and sending thousands of civilians before military tribunals.
At the moment, Springborg said, the military and Morsi have cemented their relationship through the draft constitution. The document enshrines the military’s autonomy to a degree that surpasses even the Mubarak days, a position the generals might be reluctant to relinquish to secular forces interested in rewriting the charter. But the more they believe that Morsi is mishandling the transition, the more incentive they may have to abandon him, Springborg said, a fact that may also put pressure on the president to try to settle the crisis.
In some sense, Springborg said, “both sides are looking to the military to decide the future of the country where they are unable as civilians to work it out between themselves.”
The National Association for Change, a liberal activist group in Egypt, issued a statement Wednesday morning that called on the army to stand by protesters in pushing their demands.
‘My street is all rocks now’
Witnesses in the upscale neighborhood of Heliopolis described scenes of shifting “front lines,” flying stones and flames outside the palace on Wednesday night, the chaos punctuated by the periodic crack of tear gas canisters from the riot police.
“My street is all rocks now. Every single car on my street has shattered windows,” said Sarah Wali, a business-development manager who watched the clashes from her balcony.
“The scary part is that a lot of this seems to be anger, and it doesn’t seem to have a point,” she said. “I don’t know how a president is sitting, not making announcements and not trying to calm things down.”
Morsi left the presidential palace Tuesday night amid protests outside. But a palace official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the president and his staff had returned to work on Wednesday.
“Egyptians will gather everywhere and use all viable means, and we will not end this battle we entered for freedom and dignity until we are victorious,” said Mohamed ElBaradei, a former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a leader of an opposition coalition calling itself the National Salvation Front.
Springborg, the professor, called the crisis a significant moment for the Muslim Brotherhood, which, he said, appears to be splitting over how to respond. Some within the administration see the protests as a chance to beat the opposition into submission, he said, while others, including Morsi, are advocating restraint.
Members of the opposition said they have yet to agree on how to proceed if the protests do not halt the government’s march toward a referendum.
Much of the country’s judiciary has come out against Morsi’s decree. But the Supreme Judicial Council said Monday that it would oversee the referendum as a way out of the current political crisis, offering the possibility of legal credibility for the vote.
Ingy Hassieb in Cairo and Anne Gearan in Brussels contributed to this report.
By Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan, Dec 06, 2012 12:37 AM EST
The Washington Post Thursday, December 6, 8:37 AM
The United States and like-minded governments are rushing to fund and legitimize a newly formed Syrian opposition group amid fear that plans for a political transition are being outpaced by rebel military gains, U.S. and European officials said.
France, the first of several European governments to officially recognize the Syrian National Coalition, has sent diplomats in recent weeks to the Syrian border to hand out cash to the group’s representatives for distribution to local political councils, a senior French official said Tuesday.
The Obama administration is considering a similar approach. But because of U.S. law, the money would be given “in coordination with the SOC” and would be carried into Syria by nongovernmental organizations already distributing American aid, a U.S. official said.
The coalition was formed last month, under the tutelage of the United States and regional governments, as a last-ditch effort to bring disparate forces opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad under an umbrella that could lure his remaining supporters away from him. Since then, international backers have moved rapidly to bolster its legitimacy by providing diplomatic recognition and money for it to dole out to local groups.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other leaders plan to announce increased funding at a Friends of Syria meeting next week in Morocco, even as the United States continues to reject direct military aid to Syrian rebels.
Clinton is also expected to announce U.S. recognition of the group as “the legitimate representative” of the Syrian people, anointing it as the transition authority that would take over after Assad’s anticipated fall and following in the footsteps of France, Britain, Spain, Italy and other nations. U.S. officials, who were not authorized to discuss the issue, said a final administration decision awaited Clinton’s return from a European trip this week.
“Now that there is a new opposition formed, we are going to be doing what we can to support that opposition,” Clinton told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday. She urged a political settlement, which the Syrian regime has steadfastly rejected, and said Assad’s fall is “inevitable.”
In the meantime, Clinton said, the United States is worried about what Assad might do as his hold on power slips, repeating fears expressed earlier in the week by President Obama and others.
“Our concerns are that an increasingly desperate Assad regime might turn to chemical weapons or might lost control of them to one of the many groups that are now operating within Syria,” Clinton said.
She spoke at NATO headquarters, where the alliance on Tuesday approved Patriot antimissile defenses for Turkey. Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO is still opposed to wider air protection for rebels inside Syria.
With a steady flow of arms from foreign supporters in the region and weapons seized from overtaken Assad arsenals, rebel forces have scored impressive recent gains, clearing government troops from the border with Turkey and scoring tactical victories in the suburbs of Damascus, the capital.
“It is bloody and long,” the French official said of the 20-month-old uprising. “But my feeling is there has been an acceleration of dynamics in the last few weeks, an erosion of the regime while the morale of the activists is higher and higher. I believe it is now possible the regime will fall soon,. Whether that is weeks or months, I don’t know.”
The growth of extremist factions within the rebel ranks has increased the urgency of developing a political alternative to match opposition military gains, according to the French official and others, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing diplomatic talks.
"This is a real concern for the United States, for France and for the Syrians themselves,” the French official said. “The quicker the fall of the regime and the stronger the political alternative, the more you empower it . . . the more likely that Syrians themselves will be able to resist radicalization.”
This official and others outlined several possible scenarios in the coming weeks, ranging from full opposition control to a retreat of Assad’s forces to an area along the Mediterranean coast controlled by his minority Alawite sect, to a regime effort to maintain control over a swath of land from the city of Homs west to Assad’s Hezbollah allies in neighboring Lebanon.
The political goal of the Obama administration and its allies is to establish the opposition coalition as a legitimate voice of authority and aid inside Syria, while pushing the group to finalize plans for a transition government that can quickly take over after either a military win or a cease-fire negotiated between the coalition and the remnants of the Assad government.
In the meantime, the administration has set up working groups in Washington to prepare for various “day after” scenarios, including provision of essential services and securing Syria’s chemical weapons.
Assad has shown no interest in negotiating his departure, and the opposition has said it will not talk with the regime until he leaves.
Assad’s intransigence is aided by Iran, his closest regional ally, and Russia, a longtime arms supplier. Russia, along with China, has repeatedly blocked U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Assad.
Although some European officials say they detect signs that Russian support for Assad is waning, a U.S. official said the administration has seen “zero movement” in Russia’s position.
The administration has also accused Iraq of allowing Iranian arms shipments to Syria to overfly its territory. A delegation of U.S. officials, led by Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, was in Baghdad on Wednesday to discuss this and other defense issues.
Egypt’s crisis gets worse: Five takeaways from President Morsi’s speech
Posted by Max Fisher on December 6, 2012 at 5:38 pm
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, in a televised speech to the nation responding to rising unrest, refused to withdraw the presidential decree expanding his powers or to postpone the constitutional referendum planned for Dec. 15. He also expressed sharp criticism of opposition protesters, whom he suggested were agents or “thugs” paid by foreigners. His two major concessions were announcing that his decree will expire after the referendum and that he will hold a “dialogue” on Dec. 8, to which opposition figures are invited.
Here are five immediate takeaways from the speech and what it means for Egypt’s worsening political crisis:
1. Morsi really, really wants the constitutional referendum to happen.
His concession, to drop his specially decreed powers only after the vote, supports fears that he made the decree specifically to secure the referendum. Some analysts say that voters are likely to approve it almost regardless of its text, seeing it as a vote for the revolution. “By saying ‘yes,’ you’re saying yes to elected institutions, more stability, more normalcy, and therefore more security and more investments,” Omar Ashour told the Post’s Abigail Hauslohner. “A ‘no’ vote is a vote for the unknown.”
Here’s why the opposition is so worried about this: the constitution-writing assembly is dominated by Islamists and widely criticized as unrepresentative of Egypt. Neither the constitution nor the referendum can be blocked by the nation’s courts, according to Morsi’s decree, which he conspicuously made just before the Islamist-dominated constitutional assembly unveiled its final draft. As long the referendum still goes forward, and Morsi’s decree remains in place, the Islamist president is probably going to secure the Islamist-friendly constitution as the law of Egypt.
2. On protesters, echoes of Hosni Mubarak.
Morsi spent years in the opposition during Mubarak’s reign, when the regime worked assiduously to delegitimize anyone who protested or opposed him. So it was surprising to hear Morsi repeating some of Mubarak’s old lines. He suggested that protesters are “thugs” creating chaos, that they are only protesting because they are paid to do so, and that they are backed by unnamed foreigners. Mubarak made similar accusations during the 2011 protests, about the Muslim Brotherhood among others.
Morsi also strongly criticized opposition protesters for committing acts of violence but did not acknowledge that some of his own Muslim Brotherhood supporters had done the same, which is not likely to assure many opposition figures that Morsi is a fair broker.
3. The stick is on the table now.
Morsi implicitly offered two paths forward for the opposition, which he variously welcomed with open arms to participate in the Dec. 8 national dialogue or condemned as “infiltrators” who would be “penalized.” The language could suggest that Morsi is willing to place opposition groups or leaders in the “political differences” category if they do things his way or the “hired thugs” category if they continue to demonstrate. He called for the protesters to pull back, warning that they were “threatening the security of the homeland,” as Mubarak did of protesters in 2011. That sort of characterization could, hypothetically, be used to justify more extreme measures. So could Morsi’s insistence that “police interrogation” had proven that the protesters were paid by shadowy foreign sources. It sure sounded like he was paving the way for a crackdown, or at least keeping the option open.
4. The opposition faces a real dilemma.
Does it participate in Morsi’s Dec. 8 dialogue? If he’s sincere about seeking input and possibly even offering it concessions – maybe by amending the constitution, for example, or sending it back to the assembly – then this could be a crucial opportunity for the opposition to secure some of its requests, though not the unlikely demand that Morsi resign. However, attending would lend Morsi’s process and thus his constitution more legitimacy, which would be bad for the opposition if the constitution doesn’t actually change enough to satisfy it. Still, boycotting seems like a certain loss for the opposition, allowing Morsi to ignore its demands and declare that he’d heard out the people when only supporters participate in his dialogue.
5. Things are probably about to get worse before they get better.
Protesters responded to the speech by torching the Muslim Brotherhood’s Cairo office, according to Al-Ahram. Morsi, in his speech, issued both an invitation and a challenge to the opposition, which so far seems to be responding only to the latter, and quite negatively. So both sides appear to be elevating the crisis, and neither is backing down. There is a possibility for rapprochement in the Dec. 8 dialogue, but it’s hard to see that succeeding.
Bottom line: After all the harsh words, mutual mistrust, and clear antagonism between Morsi and his supporters versus the opposition and theirs, it’s difficult to see the two sides coming to an accord in only two days’ time. It could happen, but would probably require Morsi to open with significant concessions. If the Dec. 8 dialogue falls through, with the constitutional referendum only a week away, then both the opposition and Morsi may see cause to escalate even further as the vote nears.
Confusion pervades Egypt’s opposition after Morsi rescinds decree
By Abigail Hauslohner and Ingy Hassieb, Dec 09, 2012 11:51 PM EST
The Washington Post Published: December 9 | Updated: Monday, December 10, 7:51 AM
CAIRO — Confusion and disarray pervaded the ranks of Egypt’s opposition on Sunday night, a day after President Mohamed Morsi made a gesture toward compromise by rescinding the controversial decree that had granted him near-absolute power and plunged the country into political crisis .
Opposition leaders called for more protests after Morsi refused to cancel a referendum, scheduled for Saturday, on a contentious draft constitution that critics have deemed illegitimate.
The National Salvation Front, an alliance of prominent opposition figures, warned that a referendum held amid the political crisis, which is in its third week, could plunge the country into further chaos.
The timing of the alliance’s response, which came more than 20 hours after Morsi replaced his decree with a modified version, underscored the challenges facing Egypt’s broad but divided opposition movement. The opposition has brought together liberals, secularists, human rights activists and old regime loyalists, but it has yet to reach a consensus on whether to vote against the draft charter or boycott the referendum. The indecision could undermine the ability of anti-Morsi groups to influence the vote.
It is also unclear to many whether the critical element of Morsi’s Nov. 22 decree, which gave him the power to legislate without judicial oversight, has been substantially altered. The new declaration, while voiding the old, contained an article that grants the president the right to make new decrees, free of oversight.
“I’m really confused by all of the politics in the country,” said Hebatollah Adel, a doctor who joined opposition protesters outside the presidential palace Sunday night. “I’m waiting for the judiciary’s opinion, waiting to see whether or not they will supervise the referendum. And I’m waiting to see what the National Salvation Front will say,” she added.
A series of “constitutional declarations” issued over the course of the country’s tumultuous and nearly two-year-old transition — first by the military and later by the elected president — has created an atmosphere of uncertainty in the country, with ordinary Egyptians often expressing bewilderment over which laws and rules prevail and which don’t.
Morsi followed his decree declaration Sunday with new tax measures, raising taxes on income, property and several commodities as part of a reform plan to meet terms of a $4.8 billion IMF loan that his government is pursuing. As per an earlier military decree, Morsi has retained the power to legislate in the absence of a functioning parliament, which was dissolved by a court order this year.
“What does this play on words mean? We’re still stuck up against the wall,” Monella Eissa, a 47-year-old French-language teacher, said Sunday after learning of the latest decree from Morsi. “We want to stop the constitutional decree and stop the referendum.”
Opposition leaders focused on their demands to cancel the referendum, even as some activists debated whether a “no” vote against the draft charter would prove more effective by forcing the reformation of the *constitution-drafting assembly.
The number of protesters camped outside the presidential palace had shrunk from tens of thousands on Saturday night to hundreds on Sunday. Those who remained reflected the divide over what to do next.
Only a handful of opposition members participated in a Saturday dialogue session at the palace; most had boycotted. And as Morsi pressed forward on the referendum, rumors circulated Sunday that Egypt’s judiciary — the president’s greatest foe in last month’s power grab — may yet supervise the vote.
The judges of the State Council, a judicial authority that rules on disputes between civilians and the authorities, planned to meet Monday to determine their final stance on the referendum.
The Supreme Judicial Council, the country’s highest-
ranking judicial authority, has already agreed to oversee the vote.
Morsi, meanwhile, issued a declaration in the official Gazette, in which his office publishes new laws, authorizing the military to protect government institutions ahead of the referendum and to carry out arrests, if necessary.
“All this, to me, is a failure,” said Islam Hosni Hussein, a computer engineer. Hussein said he had camped outside the palace for days and was not planning to leave — regardless of a decree or a constitutional referendum. “The only thing I want is what’s hanging by that gate,” he said, pointing to a banner draped nearby that read: “The people want to topple the regime.”
“We won’t leave until Morsi leaves,” Hussein said.
Stephanie McCrummen and Sharaf al-Hourani contributed to this report.