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Opinion

Egypt's President Morsi and opposition must talk – and fix the constitution

Protesters are demanding President Morsi's resignation and have burned the headquarters of his backers, the Muslim Brotherhood. The way out of this crisis is for Morsi and opposition leaders to negotiate a path forward together. That must include a constitution that is representative of Egypt.

By David M. FarisOp-ed contributor / July 1, 2013

Looters take furniture and other objects from the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters after it was burned down by protesters opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in Cairo July 1. Op-ed contributor David M. Faris writes: No system exists to register discontent with the government because 'there is no legal parliament ... [and] Morsi and his allies rushed through a constitution that kept all policymaking centralized in Cairo.'

Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

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The Middle East’s largest and most pivotal state is careening toward a grave crisis as hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Egypt call for embattled Islamist President Mohamed Morsi to step down. On Monday, protesters looted and burned the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, which backs Mr. Morsi. This dangerous new confrontation threatens not only to derail the country’s uncertain democratic transition, but also to unleash a wave of economic and social chaos.

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Protesters want President Morsi, who was elected last year, and his Muslim Brotherhood regime deposed via early presidential elections. The immediate need, though, is for Morsi and opposition leaders to negotiate a way forward together. That will have to involve agreeing to fix Egypt’s disastrous constitutional order – which has fueled deep distrust in Morsi. Better institutions won’t magically resolve the political impasse, but the impasse cannot possibly be resolved without better institutions – a democratically elected parliament, for instance, and a much less powerful presidency.

The government’s critics have legitimate, serious  grievances: Morsi and his allies in the Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), have seemed much more interested in pressing a narrow and divisive Islamist agenda than in actually running a country or pursuing desperately needed economic and political reforms. Their sheer incompetence at keeping Egypt functioning is quickly turning even the Brotherhood’s electoral supporters against them.

Much of the unfolding disaster, however, precedes Morsi. It can be traced back to undemocratic decisions about government that were made shortly after the January 2011 uprising that forced dictator Hosni Mubarak from power. 

Those decisions were made by the interim governing body, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Instead of taking the time to craft a durable constitutional order through a consensual process, the military leadership gave this responsibility to a parliament that had yet to be formed.

That parliament, which took office in January 2012 and was dominated by the FJP and even more conservative Islamist elements, predictably mucked up the job by creating a largely self-serving, heavily Islamist constitutional drafting committee that was only minimally agreeable to Egypt’s many political, economic, and religious groups.

But even before Morsi won the final June 2012 run-off to claim the presidency, a court ruling dissolved the six-month-old parliament. This not only deprived Egypt of any countervailing institutional check on the presidency; it has also created a situation where the country’s opposition has had no democratic channel through which to express its dissatisfaction with the current government.

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