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After the Constitution, a New Battle in Egypt

The approval of the new, controversial Egyptian constitution does not end the transition process that started with the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. Rather, it moves the struggle for power between the country’s new Islamist elite and the secularists that have ruled Egypt for decades into a new phase. New parliamentary elections will take place in the next two months. If secular parties obtain creditable results, even short of winning the majority, there is still hope that the transition will eventually lead to a democratic outcome. If secular parties suffer a resounding defeat, as they did in early 2012, the battle will probably move to the streets, with unpredictable results.

After the Constitution a New Battle in Egypt
A member of republican guard stands in front of wall of presidental palace that was drowen by protesters shows the new president Mohamed Mursi (L) and the Previous president Hosni Mubarak (R) in Cairo. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
 

The approval of the new Egyptian constitution by a 64 percent majority in a referendum in which only  a third of eligible voters bothered to participate foreshadows a protracted battle between the Islamists in power and the secularist opposition in the months to come. Far from putting an end to the transition period that started with the deposition of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, the approval of the constitution initiates a new battle that will determine whether Egypt can settle down into a normal political process approaching democracy, with a government whose actions are kept in check by a strong opposition and both sides abiding by the constitution and the law. The alternative is a perpetuation of the chaos of the last few months, with large demonstrations and occasional violent street battles between two sides that deny each other’s legitimacy, disregard the law, and take arbitrary steps in the name of their own concept of revolutionary necessity. The street confrontation, if it takes place, will not be a replay of the uprising that brought down former President Hosni Mubarak. It will not be a battle between idealistic demonstrators seeking democracy and dignity against an ossified authoritarian regime that has overstayed its welcome. There is no longer any unity of purpose among Egyptians, as there appeared to be in the first weeks of the Egyptian uprising. What is being fought now is a battle for power between Islamist and secular forces. 

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