x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Morsi needs to convince more on constitution

Mohammed Morsi may have temporarily calmed a dangerous situation in Egypt, but Egyptians have not had the final word yet.

Was he far-sighted, or did he blink? Having cancelled the decree that granted him sweeping powers without oversight, Mohammed Morsi may have temporarily calmed a dangerous situation in Egypt, a situation that looked for a time to be spiralling out of control.

But Mr Morsi may not be firmly in charge of events, either. Annulment of the November 22 decree did not end demonstrations, or at least threats of more protests, and brought renewed allegations that the president is hijacking the people's revolution. Nor did he halt the referendum on the draft constitution - to the dismay of many.

Some will congratulate Mr Morsi for rescinding his decree, but it is hard to find any clear winners from this political battle. Even the opposition - who refused to meet Mr Morsi at the palace for talks - look petty and intransigent. At a time when their supporters were dying on the streets, the politicians could not bring themselves to meet the president for talks. Indeed, the army looks to have been boosted most: their calm and measured statement calling for dialogue makes them appear to be the brokers of stability.

One can say - and many have - that the opposition's true aim appeared to be to remove Mr Morsi. Regardless of his (slim) democratic mandate, opponents saw an opportunity to topple Egypt's Islamist president, not because of what he did but because of what he is. But that is not the full story: contrary to the claims of Mr Morsi's supporters that the protesters are all remnants of the Mubarak regime, the sheer depth of feeling among ordinary Egyptians proves that protesters genuinely fear the Brotherhood.

Mr Morsi needs to hear that message and placate that fear. Many Egyptians were willing to give the Brotherhood a chance - but the Brotherhood appear to take their support for granted.

This is particularly clear with regard to the constitutional referendum, which will go forward on December 15. There is no doubt Egypt needs a constitution and needs one rapidly. But it also needs a document that has some degree of "buy-in" among the majority of the population. Mr Morsi cannot now imagine he will be able to push through a constitution with only the support of his allies.

To avoid similar scenes of protests, Egypt's president will need to be sure he can carry a real majority at the polls when this draft is voted on, and a parliament is eventually elected. Egypt's people have not had the final word yet.