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Egypt's Future at Stake?

Aired November 28, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

The future of Egypt is being decided right now. Far from stepping back from his extraordinary decrees, Egypt's president, Mohammed Morsi, appears to be doubling down and the crucial constitutional assembly is suddenly speeding up its work, rushing to finalize a draft of that document tonight and aiming to put it to a vote as early as tomorrow. This whole process has been fraught from the very beginning. Almost half the members of the body writing the constitution, including women, Christians, secularists and other opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood have resigned in protest, saying the assembly has been hijacked by the fundamentalists, which raises the troubling question: is this what the president was after all along?

He says he was trying to protect the process from Mubarak-era courts, which so far this year have already dissolved the first democratically- elected parliament as well as the first constitutional committee. And there were fears the courts would go even further.

But Morsi's opponents continue to protest in Tahrir Square tonight for the seventh straight day, many of them chanting, "Go, go, go!"

And judges in Egypt's two highest courts are on strike. It is the worst crisis since Morsi became president. And in a moment I'll be speaking to one of his closest advisers and also to an opponent of his latest moves.

But first, here's what else we're covering tonight.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): Tunisia led the region's revolutions. They are also writing a constitution. Will this one be the Arab Spring's true test of democracy?

And a lesson for leaders, those who don't remember the past are doomed to repeat it.


AMANPOUR: We'll get to that in a bit, but first to the crisis in Egypt and what has Morsi done? How will this end?

So with me now to discuss this is Morsi's adviser and senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing, Essam el-Erian.

Mr. El-Erian, thank you for joining me from Cairo.

So let me ask you, why the rush now amidst all of this crisis to push through the constitutional process?

ESSAM EL-ERIAN, MORSI ADVISER: We are working on this draft since six months. We are not starting in a few days, but we start from six months till now (inaudible) continuing today and tonight for working in the general assembly and in the branches' committees in the constitutional assembly.

We are about to finish tonight and to vote tomorrow and put the draft on the hands of presidential (inaudible) within about 15 days.

AMANPOUR: Wow, that's such a speeded-up process. You say you've been at it for six months; I outlined all the problems, President Morsi giving himself those extraordinary powers just last week, said that there would be a 2-month window to do this.

Isn't it -- doesn't it just look like this is going to exacerbate, make this crisis worse by rushing through a constitution?

EL-ERIAN: All Egyptians are waiting for a new constitution reflecting the hopes of the people and dreams of Egyptians during the revolution and to end the suffering of Egyptians for more than 60 years under dictatorship and (inaudible).

We are going to have rotation (ph) of power according to this constitution via the ballot and to reflect the will of the people and the general opinion on the ballots during a democratic system, which will start soon after endorsing the draft.

AMANPOUR: Yet, Mr. El-Erian, you talk about democracy, but so many people have said that actually what Mr. Morsi has done is a version of dictatorship, as he says, trying to protect that democracy.

And as you know, so many of the constitutional assembly members have withdrawn and resigned. So that begs the question: is this an Islamist constitution? Is this a constitution just for the Muslim Brotherhood? How do you make it truly representative?

EL-ERIAN: All the resigned people from the assembly participated in a hard wave (ph) during the Muslim (ph) six -- five months. They only withdraw since about two weeks or three weeks. So their brains and their all opinions are in the draft.

And we are going to ask every Egyptian people to give his opinion and to make many meetings during this last five months in from Alexandria to Aswan, from El-Arish in Sinai to Matruh in western Egypt.

AMANPOUR: OK, well --

EL-ERIAN: All Egyptians, more than 40,000 suggestions given by people to our assembly.

AMANPOUR: That's all well and good, but what's in the document that they're going to be talking about? Are women's rights absolutely and utterly protected? Are minority rights, for instance, rights for Christians, does that explicitly -- is that explicitly said in the constitution?

EL-ERIAN: Yes, of course, women rights, minorities' rights, democratic values, all the national dreams about a democratic system, reflecting the hopes of the people and also the identity and civilization, Arabic, Islamic civilization and the Christians have their desires in the constitution according to their draft, which given to the assembly.

So all hopes of all Egyptians are in the draft.

AMANPOUR: And what about the words, specifically the controversial words, the words that worry half of Egypt and, frankly, a lot of the world? What about the role of sharia in a future Egypt, in this constitution?

EL-ERIAN: We preserve the Article II as in 1971 constitution as it is. And this was a national consensus between who are in the assembly and who are outside the assembly.

And to -- we put another article (inaudible) explain what is the principles of sharia according to the (inaudible) University knowledge. And it was put by Al-Azhar (ph) itself, which is approved by all Egyptians and mainly Christians.

AMANPOUR: You can see behind you that there are protests continuing. This is the seventh day. You've obviously been in touch with your president. He must be worried. They're shouting, "Go." They're saying the same things that they said at the end of the days of President Mubarak.

Is he not worried about this?

EL-ERIAN: Not at all, because this is the price of democracy and this is also the duty of all people towards the president (inaudible) freely and peacefully without violence. And the main item in democracy is not to protest only, but also to go to the ballots and vote and ask the people to support you in the ballots to have power.

And this is the main item in the democracy rotation (ph) of power between big parties, political parties, political bureaucrat (ph), and this was -- we are in good experience and in good excitement in the Arab world, Egypt will be the lead for all Arab countries to transform from dictatorship and tyrant countries to a democratic country.

AMANPOUR: Well, Mr. El-Erian, I really admire your spirit. I'm interested to hear you say that you're not worried about hundreds of thousands of people coming out onto the street and shouting, "Go."

So my question is how do you think this is going to be resolved? Suddenly, magically, people are going to go home? What is going to make them agree with their president after this constitutional situation and after these decrees that he's awarded himself?

EL-ERIAN: Actually, any president will go when he end his term according to the will of the people, the millions of Egyptians have the right to vote. That is the democratic process. And we protest against the Mubarak after 30 years in power.

But now Mr. Morsi only have about five months he's in power and last declaration, constitutional declaration made by him will be finished when this draft of constitution endorsed (inaudible).

Amanpour: ok. Let me just try to clarify. These decrees, these extrajudicial powers that he's given himself, will they be null and void after this is voted tomorrow? Is this the end of that decree?

EL-ERIAN: After the referendum. The draft will be put on in the assembly tomorrow and the gift given to the president to ask Egyptian people, Egyptian voters to vote within about 15 days after endorsement. If the Egyptian people said yes to the draft, it will be endorsed and will be an action.

If the draft endorsed by people and have yes vote, it will end all declaration from the military as a staff (ph), declaration in this last one, which makes this (inaudible).

AMANPOUR: Essam el-Erian, thank you very much for joining us from Cairo.

And now for more insight into Egypt's constitution, what is in it and, crucially, what's not? Egyptian scholar Mona el-Ghobashy, who's a political science professor here in the United States, and she is sharply critical of President Morsi and the whole constitutional process as it's unfolded over the last week.

What Essam el-Erian said, did that satisfy you at all? He talked about what would be said about sharia, about women's rights, about minority rights.

Are they on the right track or not?

MONA EL-GHOBASHY, PROFESSOR, POLITICAL SCIENCE, BARNARD COLLEGE: here's a certain logic to what Essam el-Erian has said. The way that the Muslim Brothers and the administration of President Morsi sees it is that this process has dragged on far too long, that many of the people who have withdrawn from the assembly are obstructionists at this point --


AMANPOUR: That's what they say.

EL-GHOBASHY: That's what they say, because they have been working on this for six months. And the deliberations of the constitutional committee have actually been quite detailed and somewhat open to the public.

However, what's not satisfying is the rather dismissive and perhaps heavy-handed attitude with which the administration of the Muslim Brothers is treating popular opposition.

I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. El-Erian. This is not the same thing as the anti-Mubarak protests. Any kind of an attempt to say that this is a new Mubarak is somewhat farfetched.

AMANPOUR: Why do you say that?

EL-GHOBASHY: Because I think that there's a fundamental difference between going out on the streets in a show of massive popular unity against an autocrat who's been in power for 30 years, and a president who has popularly elected, of course, with a very slight majority, a 3 percent difference, however the president has sort of fumbling his way to try to deal with this new Egypt (inaudible).

AMANPOUR: Fumbling is perhaps the operative word here, because really, it is hard to figure out what this president is doing. Did he miscalculate or do you believe, despite what we're seeing on the streets, that this was the only way to get a constitution through?

EL-GHOBASHY: I do think that he overreached. I think he underestimated the extent of popular opposition. All of the people we're seeing on the streets in Tahrir right now, there are many grievances bundled up altogether.

They may not be very versed in the details of the legal matters and so on, but what they are offended by is the sense of the swaggering of the Muslim Brothers. They're acting like bullies and that is something that Egyptians are not prepared to accept after the revolution.

AMANPOUR: You've studied this a lot. You've studied the constitutional process. What you just heard from the president's chief adviser, senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, did that satisfy you?

For instance, that the idea of sharia would be according to what was already in the constitution since '71?

EL-GHOBASHY: I agree with what he said. There were, actually, deliberations and there was consensus that sharia would be the same Article II wording as was in 1971.

AMANPOUR: Which just talked about the principles of.

EL-GHOBASHY: The principles of rather than the stronger and much more controversial, the rulings of sharia.


AMANPOUR: (Inaudible) satisfy the liberals and the secularists?

EL-GHOBASHY: The opposition of -- against Morsi and against the recent rushing is not so much to the text of the constitution. It's how this happened. It was the way in which many people were sidelined or their concerns minimized so that they themselves, the Muslim Brothers, ironically, are shooting themselves in the foot in many ways.

We're just asking for a more consensual approach, for perhaps a more inclusive and crucially transparent approach.

AMANPOUR: So are you basically saying that all looks AOK, that this document that Essam el-Erian has just outlined, that's being rushed through -- there's no doubt about that -- that it does protect women's rights, that it does protect minorities? It talks about diversity in Egypt and it does not increase the role of sharia or religious law?

So what we're just talking about is modalities and process, that people are angry because of the way it was done?

EL-GHOBASHY: I think that that's an accurate description of what's going on. Certainly there's lots of people who have substantive disagreements with what's in the document. But prior to those substantive disagreements is how you actually have formed the people sitting around the table.

And there has certainly been a bit of political grandstanding by both the Muslim Brothers and their opponents. They're using the constitutional debate as a mechanism of brinksmanship and competing for actual material political power. So we can't forget that as well.

AMANPOUR: So how do we emerge? How does Egypt emerge from this crisis into carrying on with its emerging democracy?

EL-GHOBASHY: One glimmer of potential hope is that the -- ironically the decrees of Morsi gave the constituent assembly two more months to complete its work. So the way that it seems to be going now is that they will be voting on this document. It's not yet clear whether they're actually going to get the quorum to have the proper vote.

You need to pass the articles by consensus and barring that, a supermajority of 67 votes.

AMANPOUR: Well, (inaudible) how they think they're going to do that because there were 100 members, 78 remaining, so 22 resigned. Essam el- Erian said, well, they'll take into consideration their views.

How does one vote and make it a clean vote when a third of them are not there?

EL-GHOBASHY: If there are 78 --

AMANPOUR: A fourth of them?

EL-GHOBASHY: -- members, they can -- technically put it to a vote. They can even bring it to the president's office. But the president then has the leeway to say take it back to the constituent assembly and have them review it, or he can go ahead and escalate this even further by taking it to a referendum, gambling on the fact that the Muslim Brothers can get out the vote --


AMANPOUR: You say they are going to take it to a referendum in 15 days.

EL-GHOBASHY: -- in 15 days. But I don't (inaudible) possibility -- well, we don't know, because the protests are indicating that there's a big blowback to the way that the Muslim Brothers are swaggering and sort of dealing with this transition.

AMANPOUR: As we said, Egyptian democracy in play right now. Mona el- Ghobashy, thank you very much for joining me.

EL-GHOBASHY: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And before we take a break, take a look at demonstrations on the streets of Cairo again as Egypt's leaders write that new constitution.

No, it wasn't today, but it was almost 90 years ago in 1923, Egypt declared its independence from the British and wrote its first modern constitution. Police were called out to halt the demonstrations then.

But Egypt isn't the only country in the region that's writing one. Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began, is debating its own democratic rulebook, and we'll talk to a political and spiritual leader of the center of that debate, when we come back.

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AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program and we've just been talking about what's turning into a constitutional crisis in Egypt's young democracy. Tunisia has had a much smoother path, but it, too, has had to wrestle with how much Islam to insert in their document.

A short time ago, I talked to Rached Ghannouchi, the cofounder of Tunisia's ruling Ennahda party, which was banned before the revolution. I asked him about the struggle to get this document right.

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AMANPOUR: Rached Ghannouchi, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: Now Egypt and Tunisia are going through their constitutional processes. We haven't seen this kind of instability in Tunisia over the constitution. Why do you think it's happening in Egypt?

GHANNOUCHI (through translator): The situation is different, either that the Egyptian society and the Tunisian society are similar somewhat, and that's why I believe that Egypt will reach the point of harmony as -- and Tunisia as well on its way to harmony.

AMANPOUR: Obviously everybody is looking very, very closely at the constitutions, not just in Egypt but also in Tunisia. You were the beginning, the father of the Arab Spring there in Tunisia.

What is the status of the constitution and how much sharia law will be enshrined in the constitution?

GHANNOUCHI (through translator): We have bypassed that problem already. A few months ago, there was some dispute about enshrining sharia, but we in Ennahda prefer to take that dispute about the matter away, so that we can reach a constitution of harmony.

And that's why we had to push away the -- that controversy and we settled for what was said in the 1959 constitution about Tunisia as an Arab country.

That's why our road is now -- is clear to enact the new constitution, which is a process that will be complete within a few months. And I believe the elections will be at the beginning of the month, God willing.

AMANPOUR: The beginning of which month?

GHANNOUCHI: The beginning of June, next June.

AMANPOUR: You're telling me that there will be no sharia, no blasphemy laws in the Tunisian constitution, correct?

GHANNOUCHI (through translator): That's correct. We believe that Tunisia has not stepped out of sharia because we understand sharia to be a matter of logic and freedom (ph). Tunisia has never gone out of sharia in order for it to come back to it. There's only a disagreement about the interpretation of sharia.

AMANPOUR: Well, of course, the interpretation is what concerns so many people. So, again, what about women's rights? I know in the constitution of the 1950s, women's rights have been enshrined.

Will they be in a future Tunisian constitution?

GHANNOUCHI (through translator): In the Tunisian constitution, there will be a reconfirmation of equality between men and women. The Tunisian law, which is in place now, all parties are willing to keep it, and it's already built on equality.

And there is no dispute now between Islamists and secularists about that matter, either. We are keen on harmony and constitutions are built on what's agreed upon.

AMANPOUR: So then let me ask you about the video that you know very well, a video of you talking to and discussing with Salafists. It was taken earlier this year; it was posted on youtube and it went viral. And it has caused a huge amount of concern, certainly among secularists in Tunisia.

What were you trying to the Salafists in that video? You were saying, "Be patient." What did you mean?

GHANNOUCHI (through translator): That video was recorded in March, and it was on youtube already. However, it was modified. It contained 112 minutes. It was supposed to be 112 minutes; only 8 minutes was introduced on youtube in order to harm the reputation of our movement and not show the true nature of it.

I wanted to tell the Salafists that they must be -- they must work under the law because the law will give them all the ability to form political parties, to work in societies, to work in mosques. Why do you insist on violence?

So what I wanted to do is to convince them to become part of the legal system, like other countries like us, like leftists or like radical groups in Germany or in Italy and Ireland, which left -- which abandoned violence and now work under the law.

Why can't we try to do the same with the Salafists to move them from violence to the -- to law because they committed violence under dictatorships?

Now we no longer have dictatorships. We have freedom. That's what I wanted to convince them to do.

AMANPOUR: There are critics and people inside Tunisia who do fear the Salafists, particularly the violent Salafists. And they worry that they are just waiting to take over.

Do you think that's possible? Can Salafists, can violent Salafists, who want an Islamic state, take over in Tunisia?

GHANNOUCHI (through translator): No, I have no fear about that. I'm not worried about that, not because I'm being confident or because I trust Salafists or any other group that wishes to control the society. Salafists, by the way, are different groups. They are not all the same.

And what I see is that the Tunisian society is a Muslim society, but a moderate one. That's why there is no hope for any radical group to control the Tunisian society, because it's a society which went through a revolution against dictatorship and will not allow any group, even in the name of a religion.

The Tunisian society is religious but moderate and it perceives Islam as something that does not -- that does not contradict democracy. Democracy and Islam can work side by side.

AMANPOUR: Rached Ghannouchi, thank you so much for joining me from London.

GHANNOUCHI: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And we'll have more of that interview later this week, and a final note from Egypt after a break.




AMANPOUR: And a final thought tonight on the crisis in Egypt, imagine a world where every picture tells a story.


AMANPOUR: As we said before, those who don't remember the past are doomed to repeat it.

That's it for tonight's program. Meantime, our inbox is always open, Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.