One of the first concepts I learned in political science was called the “Tyranny of the Majority.” This phrase is unique to democratic system of governments, and it describes what occurs when a majority power makes a decision that a minority party disagrees with (A minority as high as 49% in a two party system. Envision a three party system, and the ramifications of an unpopular majority decision. Theoretically, a party could succeed with a mere 34% of the vote, making 66% of the population extremely unhappy.
This is the best way to describe what is currently unraveling in Egypt; however, the lines of clear majority and minority parties are blurred. In all reality the desires of the Egyptian citizens could not be ascertained until the December 15th referendum on the controversial (and widely criticized as rushed) draft constitution, but it’s unclear if that country will even make it those ten days.
Morsi, as mentioned in my previous post on US Foreign Policy, is the country’s first elected President and is cited as a Islamist with support from the Islamic brotherhood. Mubarak, the previous ruler of Egypt who was ousted from power in the birth of the Arab Spring, was a secularist and his previous supporters Coptic Christians, are outraged by what they view as egregious use of authority by Morsi and the Parliament dominated by Islamists.
The plans for election were put forth by the Egyptian military which seized power for 18 months, to control a potentially chaotic environment, which called for presidential and parliamentarian elections before a drafting of the constitution. Islamists had the edge with this option and mobilized their supporters – and voting no to this transition plan had political and cultural ramifications in a highly religious society. So without much opposition, that plan was implemented and Islamists easily won both the Parliament. They eventually took the presidency, but only by a small amount. This gives more credence to the fact there is a large minority of secular supporters in the Egyptian population
They established a 100-man constituency assembly to draft the constitution. There was just one little problem: they heavily stacked the assembly with Islamists to insure that the constitution was aligned with their beliefs. For my American readers, it’s not that far-fetched, our political system often does the same thing in similar situations – the only difference is this body was writing a constitution.
The power grab by Morsi caused man secularists to remove themselves from positions in the assembly. Morsi had claimed over and over that the draft would be widely debated to reach consensus, but that proved to be false. Outraged opponents have taken to the streets in protest against the “tyranny of the majority.”
So in Cairo today, droves of Islamists and mobs of secular protesters quite literally turned the streets around the presidential palace into a battlefield. Armed with their own two fists, rocks and fire bombs the two groups were engaged for hours, in the very spot the revolt began roughly two years ago. There were reports of gunshots periodically going off, but in the midst of brawling mobs it was difficult to discern who, or which side was firing. Serious doubts are being raised whether this referendum even has the potential to occur now. With only a little more than a week until the proposed date, I believe violent clashes like this will continue to occur and increase in size and severity.
The Islamic roots were clear in the battle with an Islamist blaring from a loudspeaker, “This is not a fight for an individual, this is not a fight for President Morsi,” the speaker yelled. “We are fighting for God’s law, against the secularists and liberals.”
Secularists and liberals got their fair shots in as well, reportedly setting fire to Muslim Brotherhood political office in two other citizens.
Just for arguments sake, if they make it to the date of the referendum, or even a referendum in a few weeks that still has the same draft. Egyptians are going to have a hard decision to make. The proposed charter has vague clauses, the potential to weak citizens’ rights, provide for an over-strong presidency and greatly empower unelected religious authorities but by voting yes in approval, they would, well as Morsi promised, limit his currently unrestricted power. A no vote would prolong Morsi’s new reach of power and return the constitution to the same body that drafted it.
Among all this uncertainty, I am certain that this is not the unified Egypt depicted across the world during the Arab Spring. It seems the end of this process may not be as close as originally perceived.
*I do not own the content of the photos. They are taken from a New York Times photo gallery on the conflict.