Tuesday 11 June 2013

Is Morsi's Call For National Reconciliation Sincere?

Doesn't seem so.

Speaking yesterday in an all-Islamist conference on water security, Egyptian President Morsi called for national unity and reconciliation talks. Since November, with intermittent exceptions, the president and the Brotherhood on one hand and the opposition on the other have officially not been on speaking terms. Remarkably, in his speech, Morsi said that he's "willing to go anywhere" for that goal, which some saw as an intentionally provocative analogy made by him to Sadat's pre-Camp David rhetoric towards Israel. In any case, the general sentiment is that there is little reason to think that the calls are anything but a political tactic. The opposition has pretty much refused the talks, with only the SDP's leader Mohammed Abul-Ghar suggesting that true intention for compromise must be proven first so that dialogue takes place.

Now on one hand, it's true the opposition has made several mistakes since November, especially not attending the National Dialogue talks during the constitutional crisis, and has lost several opportunities to corner Morsi and the Brotherhood for political breakthroughs. On the other, the general sensation has been that Morsi and the Brotherhood aren't interested in compromise anyway, at least not anymore. Just looking from the outside, the Brotherhood and Morsi have pretty much snubbed every demand by the opposition (and even those of former ally, Al-Nour Salafi Party) since November. Instead of a technocratic or a national coalition government till the elections, Morsi has kept controversial PM Hisham Qandil and has expanded Islamist and Brotherhood presence in the cabinet. The also controversial prosecutor-general remains in place, strongly fighting even the judiciary's attempts to unseat him. The electoral law remains divisive, in addition to pretty much the rest of the legislative agenda by the Shura council, largely denounced by the opposition and civil society. The legislative authority draft law, designed to axe more than 3000 senior judges, and widely refused by the opposition and the judiciary, shows no sign of being revised. In addition, demands for a revision of the constitution have been tied to parliament convening and debating the demand for amendments, as Islamists expect to dominate the coming parliament anyway due to their organisational superiority, giving them the upper hand over any suggested amendments. These are examples. And even further, several considerable sources - some connected to both sides - I've spoken to argue that the Brotherhood is snubbing any behind the scenes efforts towards real compromise by "go-betweeners." Even when opposition leader Amr Moussa, from the more pragmatic wing of the NSF, recently met face to face with Khairat El-Shater, Moussa's official view is that the void between both sides turned out to be larger than he expected (setting aside the avalanche of criticisms he received for going to that meeting).

So why the calls for reconciliation now? Likely for two reasons.

First, a key condition for the Sysiphean IMF loan has been political stability and reconciliation. Given that, and increased international and local criticism, Morsi will benefit from looking like a statesman seeking national unity. Second, the planned June 30th Protests seem to be gaining much steam, with the Tamarrod movement recently announcing they're already close to reaching 15 million signatures demanding early presidential elections. Ostensible moves for national reconciliation talks could potentially lead to divisions in the opposition both on leadership and grassroots levels, and/or dispersement of the some of the momentum leading up to the protests.

The third theoretical option, for sure, is the relatively far-fetched possibility Morsi really means it. But despite the intransigence of the opposition, the ball is really still in Morsi's court. If Morsi truly wishes for national reconciliation then he must do more than broad announcements or generalist calls. He must take a concrete unilateral step in that direction, giving opposing forces something meaningful that they've been wanting, and there's a substantial menu of options for him to choose from. The problem is, however, with the rising popular polarisation and the heating momentum towards June 30th, it will seemingly take a lot for anyone to listen.

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