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False Islamist-Secular Divide in Egypt is a Wedge in Hopes for Preserving Democracy

The dichotomous myth of "secular" versus "Islamist" must be dismantled in order for Egypt to move on.

It is impossible to exaggerate the significance of the momentous events that have drawn global attention to Egypt as its people continue to struggle with the unfolding drama of their revolution.

There are two evidently opportunistic events that have come together to signal a dreadful attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to claim the entirety of the Egyptian revolution for themselves, pretty much on the same model that the Shia clerics hijacked the Iranian revolution of 1977-1979 - with the crucial difference that Egyptians in their tens of thousands have poured into their streets and are far more alert and vigilant to protect the totality of their revolution than Iranians were more than thirty years ago. 

The first event revolves around President Morsi grabbing (and then rescinding) more power than he was granted by the free and fair election that - with a narrow margin - sent him to the presidential palace. The other is the draft constitution that a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Constitutional Assembly, the president's own political allies, has hastily drafted and put out for referendum.

But the devil is in the details. What is it exactly that we are witnessing? A president that was freely elected suddenly reached for a power grab and placed himself above the rule of law. Egyptians who deeply care for the future of democracy in their homeland poured into their streets and opposed this move. Soon other Egyptians came to their streets too expressing their support and solidarity with their president and his decision which they insisted was only temporary and meant to overcome the obstacles that elements of the old regime were placing on his way to implement the will of the people, the whole point of the revolution. Clashes have ensued; some Egyptians have died in the protests, and many more injured. The blood of these Egyptians is entirely on the hands of Mohamed Morsi, who began this cycle of abuse and mistrust. But the historic fate of the Egyptian revolution is now far more urgent than engaging in a blaming game.

That President Morsi has now rescinded what he had illegally granted himself is a good sign and a victory for the Egyptian revolution. However, that he is proceeding with the referendum on this flawed constitutional draft - flawed so far as the process and thus the outcome is concerned - is a cause of continued concerns for the leading oppositional block who are rightfully suspicious of this half measure. Egyptians thus face Egyptians in a fateful moment in their history. What is the underlying cause of this unfortunate confrontation that if remains unresolved would potentially unravel the entire cause of the Egyptian revolution? 

Egyptians versus Egyptians

Both these factions are Egyptians - both had come together to topple the old regime. It is constitutionally wrong to demonise one or the other of these two groups of Egyptians. Much of the US and European news coverage of the events in Egypt is drawing a demonic picture of Egyptians who support Morsi and a heroic image of those opposing him. Underlying this binary is the very old fashioned Islamophobia. The legitimate criticism of President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and their factionalist power grab must not degenerate into Islamophobia. This is a nasty and debilitating divide, and Egyptians must not fall for it and must think beyond this momentary and false binary between lslamists and secularists. 

But how, exactly?

The Muslim Brotherhood, perfectly entitled to their fair share in a common vision for the future of Egypt, cannot manhandle an entire nation into voting for a constitution that a politically significant portion of whom have not been part of in its drafting. The position of the judiciary is a key question here. But so is the nature of the constitutional assembly drafting the constitution, which had already been left by a significant portion of Egyptian representatives. The judges may indeed have had ulterior motives, for some of them may still harbour a nostalgia for the old regime. Being as it may, that assembly that drafted the constitution was not representative of all the revolutionary forces and thus was not democratic, and in fact illegitimate, and so is the constitution they have now put out for a referendum.   

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