Supporters of the Palestinian Authority are preparing to celebrate its anticipated acceptance as a nonmember state in the United Nations General Assembly, in an event that some Middle East analysts are calling one of the greatest twists in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
But Arab newspapers? They have other things to worry about, as the political standoff between Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and the Supreme Judicial Council over the former’s granting himself sweeping new powers continues to captivate the region.
Al-Quds Al-Arabi reports in its story “Mutual escalation pushes Egypt to a ‘Big Bang’” that Islamist supporters of President Morsi are planning mass demonstrations with “millions of Islamists” in Tahrir Square on Saturday. It quotes a Facebook post by an “Islamic militant” that the demonstration will be greater than those seen “in Kandahar, Peshawar, Homs and Aleppo, and Benghazi combined.”
Opposition activists entrenched in the square are vowing to stay in their chosen spots and not be intimidated by the Brotherhood. Fears are growing that confrontations will escalate and “bloody clashes will result.”
“These fears are misplaced,” Yousri Hamad, the official spokesman for the Salafi-dominated Al-Nour political party, told the paper. “Millions are coming to show support for President Mohammed Morsi’s decisions and for the constitutional declaration. It’s a statement that the masses are fed up. They are eager to see critical decisions being made. Their resolve is in line with the spirit of the revolution.”
He may have a point, according to Yasser El-Shimi, a former Egyptian diplomat who is now a Middle East affairs analyst at the International Crisis Group. In an op-ed in the Saudi-owned A-Sharq Al-Awsat entitled “How Egypt should get out of its troubled transition,” El-Shimi rebukes Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood for relying on one-sided resolutions and for not engaging the opposition in good faith.
But, he writes, “Morsi is justified in his frustration with the status quo; the highly politicized judiciary is doing everything in its power to obstruct the efforts of the new leadership and block the desires of the majority… The opposition also has responsibility. They should prove they are serious about the political process.”
However, analysts from around the region are wondering what options the opposition has in light of the current crisis. Morsi’s decision to grant himself all authority to protect the revolution and remain above legal oversight is technically valid until a new constitution is approved. All non-Islamist members of the Constituent Assembly, the body charged with crafting a new Egyptian constitution, are boycotting it until President Morsi backs down from this decree. Still, worrying that their window of opportunity may be closing, the remaining Islamist members of the Constituent Assembly are scrambling to prepare a draft version of a new constitution that may be ready by this Thursday afternoon.
The move is seen as an attempt at influencing an expected ruling this Sunday by the overseeing constitutional court on whether the assembly should be disbanded altogether.
The London-based daily Al-Hayat reports that, in order to push the Islamist-sponsored constitution forward and limit the power of the constitutional court, “the president (Morsi) may decide to invite the Egyptian people to a referendum this Saturday.”
These developments are not expected to help efforts to broker a political compromise between the Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition. Meanwhile, the rest of the Arab world cringes as Saturday’s demonstrations approach.
Hashemite Kingdom faces havoc of its own
Anticipating large anti-government protests on Friday, Jordanian police have closed off many of Amman’s main streets in an effort to “maintain security,” Al-Hayat reports.
The Islamic movement organizing the protests, called the National Front for Reform and led by former prime minister Ahmad Obeidat, is urging Jordanians to come out to demand that the government abolish price hikes for fuel and consumer goods and that “constitutional amendments be passed that limit the powers of the palace.”
The decision to shut down wide swaths of Amman was promptly criticized by the Islamic opposition, which accused the authorities of trying to limit the number of participants at the demonstrations.
Although tomorrow’s demonstration represents a critical threat to King Abdullah, it may have been just what he needed to persuade Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council members to provide Jordan with a financial bailout plan. Al-Jazeera reports that Saudi Arabia has finally agreed to deposit up to $1.37 billion into the Central Bank of Jordan. King Abdullah stated in a press conference that “a breakthrough has occurred in the commitment of the Gulf states toward Jordan.” The king revealed that Qatar, Kuwait, and the UAE have all signed on to support infrastructure projects in Jordan over the next five years to the tune of $5 billion.
But, on a day in which opposition activists went around burning thousands of ballots as an expression of their rejection of scheduled parliamentary elections next year, time will tell if the Gulf states’ bailout commitments are enough to quell Jordan’s domestic anger.