Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi today signed into law Egypt’s new constitution, which his fractured opposition has denounced as a betrayal of the original democratic goals of the 2011 revolution against the Hosni Mubarak regime.
The constitution was written by an Islamist-dominated assembly that pushed through a draft over the objections of its liberal, secular, and Christian members, many of whom resigned in protest. The new constitution tilts toward the goals of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks to impose its Islamist ideology on moderate Muslims, secularists, and non-Muslim minorities.
The constitution also protects the interests of the army by allowing it to retain control of its own budget and extensive business empire, thereby helping to solidify the growing alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military, which has dominated Egyptian politics since 1952.
Although the military elite is undoubtedly pleased with the new constitution, women and religious minorities were the big losers. Article 2 stipulates that “the principles of Islamic Sharia” will be the main source of legislation. This threatens to erode the rights of women and non-Muslims, whom Sharia law treats as second-class citizens.
More than 100,000 Coptic Christians have fled Egypt in a recent nine-month period due to rising sectarian attacks whipped up by Salafist Muslim fundamentalists. Egypt’s Christian minority, one of the largest in the Arab world, has been one of the big losers of the so-called “Arab Spring.” Egyptian Christians have been attacked and persecuted by Islamist extremists, as have Christian minorities in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and elsewhere.
Egypt also faces severe economic problems. Since Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011, Egypt’s hard currency reserves have fallen from $43 billion to $15 billion. Egypt’s economy has deteriorated due to declining foreign investment and tourism revenues, and there has been a run on Egypt’s currency as Egyptians have dumped their pounds to acquire dollars and other currencies. Economists say the government now urgently needs a cash infusion of about $14 billion in order to stay afloat.
Cairo’s economic predicament gives Washington substantial leverage if it conditions aid on the new government’s adherence to its peace treaty with Israel, cooperation in fighting terrorism, and respect for the human rights of its own citizens. So far, the Obama Administration has handled the Morsi regime with kid gloves and has not publicly threatened to suspend aid if Morsi continues on his radical course.
Expect Congress to weigh in on this matter soon if the Obama Administration continues to give Morsi the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his highly suspect democratic credentials. The United States should not continue its $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt unless Cairo’s new rulers act as allies to advance U.S. national interests and values. But Morsi has done little to prove worthy of the Administration’s evident confidence in him and much to suggest that he will lead Egypt away from its past close cooperation with Washington.