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Opinion

Be inclusive, Morsi, or you may face a second Egyptian revolution

Will it take a second revolution to complete Egypt’s democratic transition? Anti-government protesters plan to turn out in massive numbers Sunday. President Mohamed Morsi should heed cries for more inclusiveness. Otherwise, he may find himself toppled like Mubarak.

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He stacked the commission writing Egypt’s new constitution with Islamists after granting himself power to rule by emergency decree (which he rescinded after a public outcry). Despite the absence of a democratically elected parliament, he has pushed hard to enact laws that restrict non-governmental organizations, do not address vote-rigging, and expand his control over the judiciary.

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And rather than appointing officials from a cross-section of Egyptian society to guide a democratic transition, he has relied narrowly on Brotherhood loyalists in his cabinet, as prosecutors, and as governors.

President Eisenhower famously warned against the dangers of the military-industrial complex. Egypt today is in the grips of a military-Islamist complex. The Islamists provide a veneer of democratic legitimacy and shield the military from accountability for corruption and human rights violations.

The military and security police, in turn, supply muscle to keep the new regime in power. And the military manipulates the Obama administration’s anxiety about Islamists to secure continued massive aid despite its human rights abuses against democracy advocates.

The chief threats to both of these power centers are secular democrats, and Islamists and security forces have combined to repress them with increasing ruthlessness. In a pattern sadly reminiscent of the worst days of this country’s civil rights struggles half a century ago, non-violent demonstrators today are first attacked by armed thugs and then arrested.

The military also is adept at wielding the enormous economic power accruing from its ownership of large segments of Egyptian industry, silencing independent media outlets.

The Egyptian people, however, have come too far to turn back. The Egyptian revolution sprang from a broad cross-section of society. Coptic Christians and Muslims protected each other in Tahrir Square during their respective religious observances. 

The April 6 movement was founded in support of a textile workers’ strike and continues to mobilize youth to defend the well-being of poor and working people. Soccer clubs played a crucial role in the demonstrations that sparked the revolution.

Repression has taken its toll, yet secular democrats remain resilient. And funny, too: Ahmed Maher’s alleged crime was organizing a demonstration where lingerie was thrown at the Interior Ministry to signify that it is in bed with dictators rather than protecting the people.

Courageous journalists who were left unemployed after the regime friendly parent company closed the Egypt Independent – a superb newspaper by any country’s standards – are organizing a new publication. The courts gave the opposition leverage when they recently declared that last year’s parliamentary elections and the selection of the constitution-writing commission – all stacked for the Islamists – were illegal.

Defying the fractiousness often seen in post-revolutionary politics, secular democrats have formed broad alliances, including moderate elements of the old regime as well as leftists, to demand new, transparent elections. And they have remained steadfastly non-violent.

As Europeans learned when communism fell, ousting a tyrant is just the first step on the road to democracy. Some of the former East Bloc countries went directly from communist totalitarianism to multi-party democracy. But others replaced their old leaders with new, more moderate dictators, requiring second revolutions years later. And some of those countries are still waiting.

Morsi would be wise to heed the demands of the opposition for a roadmap to national reconciliation – a more inclusive governing approach that can begin to tackle the country’s economic woes. Otherwise, he may find himself ousted like Mubarak.

David A. Super teaches law at Georgetown University.

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