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An anti-Morsi protester in Tahrir Square uses chains to symbolize Muslim Brotherhood rule. (ASMAA WAGUIH/REUTERS)
An anti-Morsi protester in Tahrir Square uses chains to symbolize Muslim Brotherhood rule. (ASMAA WAGUIH/REUTERS)

Middle East panel: Getting a grip on a region in turmoil Add to ...

A lot of Egyptians are very pessimistic about the general state of the country and the lack of vision on Mr. Morsi’s part. The economy has never really recovered from the revolution. The tourism industry hasn’t picked up. And now there’s uncertainty around the constitution.

What about the constitutional reform going on right now.

OE: The big concern is how much sharia law will become a guiding principle. Really minute differences will have a very serious impact on how the country is run. As we speak, the Constitutional Assembly is voting on the draft constitution. But virtually every article is passing with unanimous consent, because the assembly is dominated by Islamists: Not a single Christian member, and many of the liberal groups, are not present – they’ve all walked out. That means those most worried about sharia law are no longer participating.

But the Islamists were elected, not only in Egypt, but across the region. Isn’t this legitimately their hour?

PM: It’s the problem of complete domination. There’s a principle here called mohasasa, which says that when you have an election, it’s not winner take all - a sense of sharing power is very much in these societies. I mean, Christians represent 10 per cent of the population, they really should be in that room, but they felt the assembly was loaded against them and the only way to draw attention to that was to boycott it.

Even if this assembly’s work gets through parliament, though, it’s going to face a referendum - and that’s likely the next battleground. I sense this thing will go on a lot longer than Mr. Morsi would like it to.

How is Israel responding to Morsi?

PM: Mr. Morsi’s declarations last week alarmed a great number of people. I was reminded, though, that the Muslim Brotherhood is incredibly well disciplined – you don’t take a step without general agreement with the hierarchy. This was not the act of an individual. They must have a plan in setting this thing in motion, and may have been surprised by the opposition. We have to look at their motives because they are a very successful group at maintaining order in their own movement and they haven’t come as far as they have without it. So, yes, outside the country, you have to wonder just what’s going on.

Is it in Egypt’s interest – and does it even have the ability -- to push Hamas and other Palestinian groups toward any kind of peace process?

PM: There’s an expectation that the Muslim Brotherhood, being the parent, if you like, of Hamas, it can rein them in and, to some degree, we’ve seen them being reined in – in their willingness to accept the ceasefires rapidly, in their willingness, in fact, to support Fatah’s bid at the United Nations. That influence has come probably from their friends in Cairo and also from their benefactors in Doha, their source of great political cover these days. Those two groups have persuaded Hamas to keep a low profile, but that is not likely to stop it from attempting to re-arm. It will build weapons, if it has to.

Is what goes on in Gaza of any real interest to Egyptians on the street?

OE: I’ve been very surprised how little interest there is. Even before Mr. Morsi’s decrees, the focus here was purely on domestic issues. The one comment I heard was about how Mr. Morsi spoke so eloquently about victims of shelling in Gaza - and yet has such trouble showing empathy for victims of revolution-related violence within Egypt.

But there’s only a certain level of antagonism he can show before Egypt’s relationship with the U.S. is in jeopardy. So it’s in his interest to act as a middle man, which raises his profile in the region but does little for him domestically. People in Egypt are very much concerned about the problems of Egypt.

What is the likelihood of Hamas and Palestinian coming together?

PM: These guys are pulling together for the most visible time I’ve ever seen. This is a real sense of movement on both sides.

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