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Constitution Vote Won't End Egypt's Crisis


For more analysis, we turned to Issandr El Amrani. He is a journalist living in Cairo, whose blog is called The Arabist. We've been talking with El Amrani since the early days of the Egyptian revolution. He's in Washington, D.C. this week and we asked him into our studio to get his view on the latest turmoil in Egypt.

Welcome to the program.


MONTAGNE: Has President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, have they been severely damaged by this crisis? Or I'm wondering if there might even be an upside for them.

EL AMRANI: Well, they argued that it will be an upside because this course of action will stabilize the situation in Egypt, keeps the transition moving, gets a constitution in place and things return to a normal political order. I find that very hard to believe. First, because the crisis will not be ended by the referendum, there's just too much resistance to that. Secondly, I do think that the Muslim Brothers have lost a lot of their status and tentative trust that was put in them, even by non-Islamists.

It's important to remember that this isn't simply an Islamist versus secularist divide. At the core of the debate is a distrust, including by very conservative pious Muslims in Egypt, of the Muslim Brotherhood. Not because they see it as a fundamentalist movement, but because they see it as bullying its way to impose this constitution. So I do think that they've lost a lot and this may work out a few months down the road. If the opposition gets its act together we may see quite different results in parliamentary elections than we did last year.

MONTAGNE: What about the army's role in all of this? I mean it seems to be behind the Muslim Brotherhood at the moment.

EL AMRANI: The army, in a sense, is not that different from the rest of Egyptian society. The same divisions that exist there exist inside the military forces. The army, right now, is trying to find a middle ground. I don't think it's so much backing the Muslim Brotherhood as trying to find an answer to this crisis that calms things down and prevents escalation. And the calls that we've seen for a dialogue by the army going against what the presidency wanted, in a sense, is one sign of this.

MONTAGNE: Another piece of the large picture here is this new coalition of opposition parties, headed by Mohamed ElBaradei. Is this coalition viable?

EL AMRANI: In a sense, President Morsi has managed to unify the opposition over the last two weeks in a way that no one was able to in the previous 18 months. Now whether that's a long lasting coalition or not, I think it's too early to tell. Certainly, especially if the referendum is lost by the opposition there will be, I think, a move to come together with a coherent strategy for the parliamentary elections, because the parliamentary elections, which will be held in a few months, will be the last chance for four years for the non-Islamists to get as much power in government as they can.

MONTAGNE: Let's look at the U.S. role in all of this. In your blog, you quoted an op-ed by The Washington Post commentator David Ignatius, where he wondered how - and I'm quoting him - "how did Washington become the best friend of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt?" In your blog you say this is the right question to ask. What do you mean by that?

EL AMRANI: David Ignatius is right to the response from Washington has bordered on the absurd. It calls for inclusiveness in the constitution, but what does that mean when the constitution has already been adopted? It clearly wasn't inclusive and the president is insisting on a referendum. Why are they thinking it's going to make things more inclusive? What a lot of people fear in Egypt is that we're seeing a repeat of the patterns from the U.S., but also from the European Union, for instance, of silence about abuses by the regime, just like under Mubarak. There's something very important at stake in Egypt today. This is not just the sour grapes of an opposition that can't get people elected. It's the concern, I think, of a much wider part of the population that feels excluded and is afraid that the country will drift in a much more ultra conservative direction. And the U.S. has stayed silent about all this, and that silence is being seen in Cairo, as approval.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

EL AMRANI: My pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Issandr El Amrani writes "The Arabist" blog. He's based in Cairo, but joined us for this conversation in our Washington D.C. Studio.


MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.