Secularism and liberalism are not new phenomena in the Muslim world. They came first with the colonists in the last three centuries. Secular liberals were among the elite in progressive countries like India, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Lebanon and Turkey. Political parties and movements advocating liberalism and secularism were on and off governments in these countries.
Al-Wafd was the most popular and organized Egyptian party. Its founder, Saad Zaghlul Pasha, was highly respected as a world class leader. He led the Egyptian revolt in 1919 against British rule. The party was headed by the “delegation” (or “wafd” in Arabic) that negotiated in Paris with Great Britain for their country’s independence after the end of World War I. They failed, formed Al-Wafd party and won the parliamentary election. Saad Pasha became prime minister in 1923 and had to resign in 1924, under British military pressure.
When the Free Officers ruled Egypt, they were secular-liberal dictators. Islam was not part of the government system. Courts employed a mixture of English and French law. Except in personal affairs, the laws were mostly non-Islamic. Judges, therefore, were largely liberals, many trained in Western law schools.
While the judiciary in Egypt today is independent, many were hand picked by the former regime, especially those in the higher courts. So politically they belong to the former government, and ideologically they are anti-Islamist.
This explains why it took the same Constitutional Court three years to dissolve the pro-Mubarak parliament and only one week to decide the same fate for the one that was pro-Morsi.
The court could have waited until the new president took over, or stopped at announcing the verdict, as it should have, according to its mandate.
This would have avoided a major constitutional and political crisis.
Instead, the liberal, pro-military judges, chose to “order” the immediate dismissal of all, not just the disputed third, of the democratically elected members of parliament. The military was quick to implement the order and seize for itself not only the legislative powers, but some of the judiciary, budgetary and presidential authority, as well.
Similarly, the media in Egypt has always been pro-dictatorship and secular-liberal. Under the headline “Egypt’s New President Is Being Undercut by State-Run Media,” the New York Times, on Saturday, explained how the press in Egypt has sided with the generals against the Islamist president. When President Morsi ordered the return of the mostly Islamist parliament, the media only published the Military Council statement, and described how Morsi’s decision negatively affected the stock market. While private television channels were interviewing defiant members of parliament, the state-run TV network was celebrating the achievements of the secret police!
“Egypt’s state news media, the traditional admiring chroniclers of Egypt’s head of state, are at war with the new president,” the Times concluded.
It seems that the deep-rooted remnants of the former government (called “folool” by revolutionists) are resisting the tide of the populist president. They have already undercut the newly-elected president by dissolving the mostly Islamist parliament and taking away some of his powers. Now the “folool” are conspiring to strip him of his prestige. The make-fun-of-the-president campaign includes his hijab-wearing wife and conservative Muslim family.
They are depicted as low class and stupid village people, even though they are better educated - in top Egyptian and American universities - than most of their detractors.
Never in Egypt’s history has a head of state been the target of so many sarcastic and disrespectful cartoons, rumors and jokes. Mubarak would have sent them all to the torture chamber and turned them into clowns in his family circus, or silenced them for good. But the new president has told them, instead, they are free to express their own opinion. It is not wrong to advocate freedom of speech, but I would advise him to sue those who cross the line, and misuse their new freedom to serve the military and former dictatorship in the name of liberalism and democracy. But then I must also remember that the courts are in their hands (and pockets).
The best course for President Morsi, therefore, is to go back, again and again, to the public, the source of all legitimate powers and authorities. The people should and will help him get justice.