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Islamist-secularist rivalry underlines standoff

Secularists are at pains to take advantage of Mursi’s mistakes

  • Egyptian riot police guard the presidential palace in Cairo yesterday as a street vendor waves the national flImage Credit: AFP
  • Riot policemen guard a gate of the presidentialpalace in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012.Image Credit: AP
  • An Egyptian protester carries a poster with a picture of president Mohammed Morsi and Arabic that reads "wanteImage Credit: AP
Gulf News

Cairo: A deepening crisis pitting Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi against the opposition is fuelled by a rivalry between the country’s powerful Islamists and secular-minded rivals in post-Mubarak Egypt, according to analysts.

“Each side thinks the other has got more than it deserves,” said Salah Al Hadi, a political analyst. “Islamists believe that they have the right to make decisions after having won in parliamentary and presidential elections. They also believe that secularists manipulate their persuasive skills and privately owned media to distort the Islamists’ image and ideas,” he told Gulf News.

“On the other hand, secularists hold the view that Islamists have hijacked the revolution (that toppled Mubarak) and exploit religion and poverty to mobilise ordinary people against liberals as a whole.”

Egypt has been gripped by protests led by the mostly secular opposition since Mursi, the country’s first elected Islamist president, issued a decree last month broadening his powers.

The opposition has called the decree, which exempts the president’s decisions of judicial oversight, dictatorial. Mursi and his Islamist allies have said the decree is temporary and necessary to achieve stability in the country.

“Secularists and Islamists at heart distrust each other and have yet to thrash out a formula for co-existence,” said Al Hadi.

According to him, neither side is willing to make substantial concessions to break the deadlock. “Secularists are at pains to take advantage of Mursi’s wrong moves to undermine Islamists’ grip on power or at least deal them a painful blow. Meanwhile, Islamists act in the belief that they can mobilise the public and portray their opponents as a bunch of secularists hungry for power,” he added.

In the aftermath of deadly clashes between Mursi’s backers and opponents outside the presidential palace earlier this week, Hamdeen Sabahi, a leftist opposition leader declared that “the president has lost moral legitimacy”.

Other opposition leaders such as the Nobel laureate Mohammad Al Baradei echoed the same message. “The regime is losing its legitimacy day after day. Its legitimacy is at stake,” Al Baradei told a press conference earlier this week.

An opposition coalition led by Al Baradei has spurned a call by Mursi for talks to defuse the crisis before the president reverses the decree, expanding his powers, and a December 15 referendum on a constitution drafted by an Islamist-controlled assembly.

For its part, Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood has attributed the opposition’s uncompromising line to an alleged lust for power.

“Had there been another elected president other than Mr Mursi and taken decisions which some people did not like, would they have taken to the streets and damaged the country’s interests like this?” said Mohammad Badei, the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide.

“Be angry as you like with the Brotherhood and hate us as you wish. But preserve Egypt’s unity and let’s turn to the judgment of the ballot box,” Badei addressed the opposition at a press conference on Saturday. “This is not opposition, but corruption, criminality and despotism.”

Blaming secularists and Islamists alike for the current standoff, Amr Al Shubaki, a political analyst, keeps the biggest portion of his criticism for the Brotherhood.

“The dilemma of the ongoing political struggle is bigger than a disagreement on a constitutional declaration,” he said. “It is a dilemma resulting from the problem of a force that has reached power without having the experience of working legally or a realistic mentality,” he added, referring to the 84-year-old Muslim Brotherhood.

Created in 1982, the group was officially banned from 1954 until weeks after Mubarak’s ouster in February last year. “The governing Brothers have moved in recent months in the opposite direction. Instead of conducting a surgical reform of all state institutions, they have turned to settling scores with others.”