Egypt: entry into an exit

December 10th, 2012

Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Dina Ezzat, Nov. 8, 2012.

In what amounts to a conditional vote of confidence for President Mohamed Morsi in the midst of an extremely challenging political quagmire, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, the number one political commentator in the country said that it is unwise for demonstrators to chant “down, down with Morsi”. This said, Heikal, whose disagreements with political Islam are only too evident, blamed Morsi, albeit in subtle language, for the current state of affairs.  

For Heikal, Morsi is still a legitimate president. “He clearly has the legitimacy of the ballot box, and I would say that this legitimacy could only fall by crimes committed and not by mistakes — even some huge mistakes,” Heikal said.

Heikal was speaking to the flagship programme of CBC’s Hona Al-Assema (This is the Capital). The station was never supportive of Morsi and whose anchor Lamis Hadidi, like almost every other anchor on this two-year old satellite channel, showed unmasked support for Morsi’s presidential adversary during the elections, Ahmed Shafik, the last prime minister of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

Heikal was tactfully critical of the two major controversial political decisions that president Morsi took recently and which prompted the current political confrontation between his supporters which comprise the Muslim Brotherhood and other strict Islamist organisations of Salafis and Islamic Jihad, and opponents who include liberal opposition during the rule of Mubarak as well as Mubarak’s supporters …//

The president, Heikal suggested, could, among other options, refer the draft of the constitution to an advisory board which would provide feedback before, not after the referendum, as Vice President Mahmoud Mekki had proposed on Tuesday evening when he proposed a national dialogue over the matter – but only after the referendum. “You cannot extend an invitation for a dialogue if something has turned into an accomplished fact,” Heikal said.

The Hadidi interview was aired less than an hour before national TV broadcast a statement by President Morsi whereby he offered to host a national dialogue on Saturday “exactly at 12:30pm”.

A dialogue, Heikal insisted, was only one of the things that he said Morsi needs to consider to reduce the tension that has been unfolding. Other moves to “open windows for an exit”, Heikal argued, are left to the president and his aides to consider, taking into consideration that the opposition facing Morsi’s recent decisions goes way beyond the 5,000 people that he said the president estimated were defying him.

In the interview Heikal stated that the US, “which has an intense and unhealthy influence on developments in Egypt today” seems to be convinced that political Islam is the answer to this region. This I say without any inclination to any conspiracies at all but the fact of the matter remains that unlike the nationalist trends which are usually at odds with American interests, the Islamist trend is capable of securing these interests.”

Foreign influence, Heikal argued, is not the only factor deciding the scenario of the next day but it is a decisive factor, as is the declining state of the economy.

For Heikal, the past few days were loaded with symbolism that should not be overlooked. The presence of masses of demonstrators around the presidential palace in Heliopolis on 5 December was another “and even better played” tune than 25 January Revolution. “It is almost an extension of it, as if the youth were picking up from where they left off and as if all the developments of the interval between then and now were unfinished.”

The Islamist demonstrations around the High Constitutional Court were also very symbolic for Heikal. For him, it recalled the history book accounts of the day the German Parliament was burnt down in 1933 following the electoral victory of Adolf Hitler. Heikal promptly noted, “of course the Muslim Brotherhood are not the Nazis and Morsi is not Hitler”.
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