Some criticism of ICG's take on the Morsi crisis, and a rejoinder

A Way Out of Egypt’s Transitional Quicksand - International Crisis Group

This alert put out by ICG has some decent suggestions about breaking the impasse that Morsi's decree has put Egyptian politics in, and rightly states that the opposition needs to act more maturely in defusing the crisis (I make a similar argument in a forthcoming piece). But this part is plain wrong:

Morsi’s decision arguably enjoys broad support from a citizenry yearning for stability. Opposition calls to rally in Tahrir Square belong more to the realm of nostalgia than to that of effective politics: the revolutionary zeal of 2011 has long exhausted itself, and any violence likely would rally a majority to the president’s side. Without meaningful grassroots popular backing, the non-Islamist opposition typically has resorted to obstructionist politics rather than formulate a positive agenda. Its demand for a complete rescinding of the declaration is unrealistic, as Morsi has staked much of his political capital on this move.

There is no reliable information on what the general public thinks of Morsi's decree, but anecdotal evidence suggests there is quite a bit of opposition to it. Likewise, the rallies in Tahrir Square appear to be more than nostalgia, since they are getting quite large numbers, and therefore there does seem to be some grassroots backing. The point about obstructionist politics remains, though — the opposition has yet to articulate how to solve the larger problems that Morsi tried to tackle with his decree.

Is there even agreement on where Egypt's crisis is headed?

Some outlets report Morsi has sealed a deal with judges, others say he hasn't. Take a look at some of the headlines you'll find on the front page of a Google News search for "Egypt":

Bottom line: the Supreme Judicial Council has given an opening to Morsi, but there is still no deal that they accept or even one that Morsi has clearly outlined. The protests are taking place, the opposition still demands that the decree is fully rescinded, Morsi will not do that, so the situation is mostly unchanged unless some senior judicial figures start outlining the terms of a compromise of the opposition starts talking to the presidency about what a compromise could be. Indeed, judges alone cannot end this crisis, the opposition has to be willing to negotiate, too — and most importantly, Morsi needs to make whatever he has in mind clear. Right now, no one can figure out where things stand.

How Morsi makes policy: Samer Morqos edition

Mursi decree "crippling to democratic transition" - Former presidential adviser Asharq Alawsat

This is how Morsi has ruled so far: with a kitchen cabinet of close confidantes, and without even consulting the advisor he appointed to be in charge of democratic transition questions on a matter that has everything to do with that:

Morcos stressed that he had accepted this position “in order to participate in the democratization process in Egypt, however what has happened, regarding President Mursi’s decision, represents a disregard of this process.” He also revealed that he was not consulted on this new constitutional declaration, which ultimately places control of the legislative, executive, constitutional and judicial authority in Mursi’s hands, adding that he only learnt of this when the decree was officially announced on television. Morcos asserted that this decision “violates all the democratic norms and traditions” as well as the special portfolio – democratic transition – that he was appointed to oversee.

How could this man not resign?

Questions about the crisis over Morsi's decree

I am busy with a project that is taking all my time, but these are the questions I am asking myself regarding the crisis over Morsi's 22 November decree:

1. Does Morsi feel he could back back down on some of the provisions of the decree without damaging his credibility as leader?

2. Is the opposition willing to make demands that are not absolute, like canceling the whole decree or having Morsi step down (which no political leader demands but the crowds in Tahrir chant.)

3. Will the judges' strike, which began in Alexandria and Beheira governorate, spread to a national judicial strike?

4. What are the prospects towards a more general strike?

5. What is the military thinking? Does it believe it could ultimately intervene, claiming to defend the constitutional order or the revolution, and if so how?

6. Will the US and EU move to freeze their recently announced aid packages, citing lack of good governance? What does this mean for the IMF deal?

7. What are the prospects for escalation on either side? We've seen FJP offices being attacked and Muslim Brothers ordered to surround, somewhat threateningly, the Cairo High Court, as well as tasked with defending their branches (a task which should fall to the police) — how quickly could this turn into direct confrontations on a larger scale?

8. Are the dynamics here winner take all — i.e. either Morsi backs down or his decree remains intact?

Feel free to add your own questions in the comments...

What's a possible way out of Egypt's crisis?

Egypt’s Morsi: Back Down or Crackdown? | Atlantic Council

Tarek Radwan writes:

Given such a charged climate, Morsi is left with a choice: either back down or crackdown. If the president decides to rescind his declaration, he risks appearing weak to his Islamist supporters in the face of a largely secular popular opposition (though some moderate Islamists, such as those from Abdel Moneim Abul Futouh’s Strong Party have joined in the protests). If he decides to crack down on popular protests and political opposition figures, he risks a severe escalation in popular anger. A crackdown could also hurt the already ailing economy and threaten the country’s stability even further in the face of an impending IMF loan that Morsi hopes will open the floodgates of other international loans and foreign investment. 

With neither choice offering a good 'out' to the current crisis, one should expect something that lies somewhere between either extreme. In true Muslim Brotherhood pragmatism, Morsi will first try to calm the situation – as evidenced by initial attempts from Prime Minister Hisham Qandil in his public statement asking protesters to accept the president’s decision and “move on.”. If that fails, and if the judiciary finds momentum in its calls to strike, Morsi will likely turn to negotiating with prominent judges and opposition leaders. In the end, a settlement that neither rescinds the decree but works on a solution that negates absolute control seems the most logical endpoint based on previous patterns of behavior when faced with enormous public backlash. 

The problem is that neither Morsi's camp nor the opposition is yet articulating a position whereby a compromise could be reached: yes to the more positive parts of the decree about securing justice for police victims and extending the deadline for a new constitution, no to absolute power for Morsi against judicial overview, and perhaps a compromise on the matter of the dissolution of the Shura Council and Constituent Assembly.