The six-hour meeting held on Dec. 8, 2012 between the Egyptian presidency and a few representatives of the opposition ended with a decision to cancel the controversial constitutional declaration and issue a new one. Although the outcome of the meeting reveals the presidency’s willingness to resolve the crisis that has so far lasted for 18 days, the attendees of this meeting were not really representative of the Egyptian opposition, whose members are currently gathered under the banner of the National Salvation Front.
This establishes the meeting as the channel through which previous decisions could be retracted via a “show dialogue” in order to absorb the anger that has swept Egyptian streets since the issuance of the declaration. It also demonstrates that the presidency is not capable of arriving to a real resolution, like revoking the declaration without issuing another and cancelling the referendum on the constitution. This would have this been the defeat of political Islam at the hands of civil powers, an unacceptable option for Islamist factions that keep putting pressure on the president. The only way out was negotiating with a few liberal figures, ones that barely have an influence on the street, to create the semblance of dialogue.
To understand the outcome of this dialogue, it is important to know the parties involved in the current crisis: Islamist powers, civil powers, and the military.
Islamist powers: ‘protecting legitimacy’
Islamist supporters of Mursi have since the beginning of the crisis proclaimed themselves as the guardians of legitimacy and accused critics of the constitutional declaration of wanting to undermine this legitimacy. With protests sweeping Egypt, Islamists started mobilizing their supporters to declare solidarity with the president, yet they failed to counter the rising anger that led to arson attacks on several Muslim Brotherhood offices, and those of its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, in different parts of Egypt.
Islamists realized they were fighting a tough battle and so they responded in two ways: first, accusing the opposition of treason and second, self-victimization. This was clear in the statements made by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide Mohamed Badei as well as by disqualified presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail following the violent clashes that erupted between the opposition and the Brotherhood in front of the presidential palace. The same discourse was adopted by Deputy Supreme Guide and the Brotherhood’s strongman Khairat al-Shater.
Civil powers: the decisive confrontation
The National Salvation Front, formed after the eruption of the crisis, managed to rally civil opposition under the leadership of former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed al-Baradei and former presidential candidates Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahy. This camp proved its ability at mobilizing Egyptians and this was demonstrated in the massive protests that condemned the president’s controversial declaration. Realizing how influential it is on the popular level, the front was not obliged to become part of a conditional dialogue with the presidency and preferred to keep lobbying through the street. That is why its leaders refused to compromise their clear-cut demands and which they believed the president manipulated in the decisions that followed the meeting. The front made it clear that no negotiations would take place before cancelling both the declaration and the referendum and called for more peaceful protests. It, however, avoided calling for a general strike owing to its awareness of the limited response such an initiative would receive especially outside the middle class.
The military: imposing change
The Egyptian army got back to the limelight following the standoff between the presidency and the opposition, but not through a coup as many analysts anticipated. The army seemed to have realized that staging a coup would not resolve the crisis and is not welcome by the liberal opposition.
The army made it very clear that it will remain unbiased and will continue its role in maintaining stability, yet it does play a role in putting pressure on the president to out an end to the division between political powers. The timing of the dialogue and alleged concessions it produced as well as a statement by the army made that role all the more obvious. In this statement, the army stressed it will not allow the country to plunge into a state of chaos while declaring its support for legitimacy in what was seen as a message delivered to both parties of the conflict to engage in a dialogue that would end the crisis.