Zaglul Ahmed Chowdhury
President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt declared on Monday a state of emergency in three cities along the Suez Canal where more than three dozens of people were killed over the past four days in riots over the issue of sentencing 21 people to death for their role in a deadly soccer riot last year in Port Said.
The second anniversary of the uprising against autocrat Hosni Mubarak brought no cheers for the Egyptians as the occasion was marked by violence and signs of instability. Friday, January 25, marked the day when two years ago the most populous Arab nation turned a new leaf in its history by getting rid of the long-time dictator. The country later went through several stages before finally having an elected government, which incidentally and unfortunately is embroiled in trouble.
Several cities in the country, particularly Port Said, witnessed agitating youths clashing with the security forces over funeral of people killed in clashes triggered by death sentences given by courts to supporters of a local football team.
Thousands of people attended the funeral when loud gun fires sent the mourners running for safety amid chaotic scenes. The violence on Friday was preceded by the soccer-related mayhem and has come as a shock when the country was to celebrate the second anniversary of the "revolution".
Egypt's unity demonstrated in the uprising against the autocrat diminished fast as political rivalries returned in full intensity after the formation of an elected government.
Earlier, President Mohamed Morsi weathered a big storm in his short tenure as he has been able to carry through a referendum on new constitution facing serious opposition. True, the referendum received "yes" votes on the Islamist-influenced new constitution, but it would be naïve to presume that the challenge is over.
For, the relatively secular political parties have kept the pot boiling and the first elected president of the country is facing bigger trouble although his rule is not threatened seriously.
Mohamed Morsi, hardly more than half a year in power, is in the midst of an unexpected political trouble following steps that had granted himself sweeping powers covering legislative and judicial areas, which he rescinded following opposition pressure.
But fact remains that Egypt is now democratic after a long spell of military and autocratic rule. It goes without saying that with his being the first democratically chosen ruler of the Land of the Nile, a glorious chapter has ushered in for the great nation. The "Decrees" that he promulgated were certainly inconsistent with democratic spirit and it was good that he annulled them. But the president remained stuck to carry forward the referendum on new constitution, which he did.
Arguably, Morsi may confront many an obstacle in implementing his political agenda as his Muslim Brotherhood party is not above criticism even though enjoys wide support among the people.
The party was banned during the era of fallen dictator Hosni Mubarak for its extreme Islamic ideology and Morsi, an United States educated engineer, himself was incarcerated during that period. Well, this goes to the credit of the party and its leadership that they bounced back to capture power in the country like Egypt in the first democratic elections.
But it also required the elected authority to go for major steps with a great degree of circumspection, avoiding unnecessary hiccups for a nation that is experiencing with nascent pluralistic pattern of governance. Egyptian president had made a costly mistake by granting himself sweeping powers that had all the potentials of "authoritarian" venom. He should not have done it at all.
Clearly, Egyptians seem wary whether their hard accomplished democratic transformation was on the brink of collapse because of politicians' whims. Elsewhere, doubts have cropped up about the shape of things in the country centring the recent crisis that erupted somewhat unnecessarily - largely because of the lack of wisdom and foresight of the president and his supporters.
Now, the country witnesses emergency because of the latest cycle of violence which originated from sports-related issue, but not totally apolitical. Egypt can not afford to sacrifice its new-found democracy for the sake of the erroneous steps of the politicians or lack of tolerance among the fractious political groups. Hopefully, the promulgation of emergency would not derail the nation from the path of strengthening democracy.