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New Threat to Egyptian Democracy

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Hidden by headlines from the Middle East on the Syrian crisis and Obama's announcement of greater U.S. involvement, the uprising in Taksim Square and major cities in Turkey, and the surprise election of Rouhani as president in Iran, is the call for nationwide anti-Morsi and anti-Brotherhood protests June 30, around the anniversary of Morsi's troubled first year in power. While some call for a second revolution, others warn of a civil war, still others see an end to the promises of Tahrir Square and democracy in Egypt.

The calls for mass mobilization on June 30th threaten the democratic process and its future in Egypt. The attempt to bring down the government and risk, even predict violence and chaos if this does not happen, rather than to pressure and insist upon government reforms, reflects the depth and danger of the "culture war" between "elected" Islamists and a so-called secular opposition. Rather than a harbinger of democratic change, it threatens the future of democratization in Egypt, risks providing an excuse for military intervention and a return to authoritarianism in the guise of a restoration of a secular, safe secure future. A movement that began with and includes many sectors of society with genuine concerns and grievances has now been transformed not by Egyptian reformers but illiberal secularists, who care little for democracy and much for their own power and privilege. Many are individuals and institutions that represent the deep state legacy of the Mubarak regime that seek to topple a democratically elected government.

Morsi and the current government have indeed made many mistakes, mishandled opportunities to reach out more effectively to build a more representative coalition government and implemented policies that outraged, marginalize and alienate sectors of society. But the response of an outraged opposition ought to be recourse to the democratic process not calls to topple the first democratically elected government in Egypt's history.

Lost in the fog of this culture war, what some have called rebellion, are failure to acknowledge the accomplishments, even if sometimes imperfect, of a new government in the face of formidable obstacles inherited from the Mubarak era: a failed economy, the army (SCAF), judiciary, interior ministry and media. Having gotten the military to "go back to the barracks," the judiciary has attempted a "soft coup." Rather than serving as an institution of checks and balances, its judges have proven predictable in asserting power over the government and electoral process, in their attempt to checkmate and nullify elections, the constituent assembly, constitution drafting, etc. While Morsi may be faulted for making his government, its councils and committees representative enough, conveniently overlooked by those who charge that the Brotherhood and Salafists dominated and wrote the new constitution is the fact that that "all twenty three Egyptian parties (at that time) approved the formation of the constituent assembly in June 2012, an assembly and that included only 32 Muslim Brotherhood members out of 100 total members." For a fuller discussion, see Mohamad Elmasry's draft article on Facebook June 17, 2013, the basis for his forthcoming article in Jadaliyya .

The media, the majority of the media, has been persistent in its opposition to the government, offering misinformation rather than information and, while complaining about government pressure, overlooking the fact that the Media and Egyptians are freer today than they have been at any point in their modern history. Who would deny, as one reviews the media's often hyper-critical discourse, charges, anti-government propaganda, that this would have never been tolerated by the Mubarak and resulted in a government crackdown.

As June 30th approaches, one would hope that critics of the Morsi government would continue to take advantage of their right and freedom to speak out loudly and boldly in their criticism and demand reforms but not be seduced by those whose goal is to topple not just a democratically elected president but, more importantly and dangerously, the democratic process itself. This is an opportunity for all Egyptians to embrace the notion of loyal opposition, a pillar of a democratic peoples government. One can be relentless and fierce in opposition to elected officials but must be loyal at the same time to the nation's system of government. Egypt has a mechanism to remove Morsi and any future presidents or members of parliament and that is the next round of elections.