Crowds of protesters chant “Morsi, murderer; Morsi, murderer” across Egypt, including near the presidential palace; warplanes fly overhead and tanks roll in; and behind the scenes, a categorical rejection of the scheduled December 15 referendum on Egypt’s Islamist-authored constitution is announced by the coalition of non-Islamist political parties that functions as the leading opposition movement.
In Arab newspapers Monday, the drama of Egypt’s first constitutional crisis pops off the page.
“National Salvation Front in Egypt challenges Morsi and rejects referendum on new constitution,” reads the lead headline of the Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, a typically stinging critic of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.
At a press conference held at the headquarters of the liberal nationalist political party Al-Wafd, opposition leaders accused Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi of “trying to circumvent the will of the people” and of “unleashing a ball of flame” with his decision not to back down from holding the referendum.
In the days leading up to Saturday’s constitutional referendum, protests against Morsi and counter-counterprotests against the Egyptian opposition are expected to intensify, along with growing fears of renewed bloodshed.
In response to the impending chaos, Mahmoud Ghozlan, a media spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, praised “the dialogue called for by the president… to discuss ways to handle Egypt’s current situation.” Ghozlan goes on to blame the opposition for the current crisis, saying it was being unnecessarily obstructive and unwilling to make compromises.
However, opportunities for leaders of the National Salvation Front to engage in meaningful dialogue with Morsi’s government may be extinguished if Egypt’s new attorney general has his way. Talaat Ibrahim, who was sworn into office just a little over a week ago, has decided to proceed with an “investigation” over allegations that Mohammed ElBaradei, the former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency and chairman of the Constitution party, and other non-Islamist politicians have committed treason and are attempting to overthrow the government.
“Even if the constitution does pass… [Morsi] will not finish his term without the weight of major dilemmas against him, his party, their allies, and all Egyptians,” Mohamed Salah explains in an op-ed featured in the London-based Al-Hayat, entitled “A constitution of blood.” “This new constitution does not meet the aspirations of all those who boycotted the meetings of the constitutional assembly, the protesters in Tahrir square, and those who besieged the palace.”
He goes on to write that “Egyptians are becoming more convinced that the president works solely for the interests of his party and that his party works solely for the interests of its members and supporters, without caring for the rest of the people.”
In an op-ed piece in the Cairo-based newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm called “Your guide to the civil war,” Mustafa Najjar echoes these sentiments. He blames the political crisis exclusively on the continuing suppression of freedoms and the preference for Muslim Brotherhood supporters at the expense of the rest of the country.
“A civil war does not get sparked suddenly,” Najjar writes. “It begins when people’s sense of citizenship becomes dim, and national sentiments are replaced by political, religious, or tribal bigotry. Each camp tries to inflate their case… and expresses contempt for the other… This polarization leads to hate speech, incitement, and the demonizing of the other.”
He urges Egyptian politicians to remember that “behind every civil war are failing politicians.”
Israeli forces on the hunt in Syria
As fears mount over the Syrian regime’s stockpile of biological and chemical weapons and President Bashar Assad’s willingness to use them, it is being widely reported in the Arab press that Israeli special forces are currently on the ground in Syria performing an extensive search.
The Qatar-based media outlet Al-Jazeera picked up the story from London’s Sunday Times, which interviewed an unidentified Israeli source who said that Israeli forces were operating in multiple locations to locate and destroy such weapons.
“We’ve known the locations of Syria’s chemical and biological munitions for years,” the Israeli source is quoted as saying. “But during the past week, munitions have been moved to new locations.
While the report remains unconfirmed by the Israeli military, Arab media have thus far refrained from criticizing Israel for any potential intervention in the Syria conflict. Syrian rebels have widely disseminated claims that the Assad regime has already resorted to chemical warfare to fight the insurgency.