The warning sirens over Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and the future of his country should’ve sounded loudly in your heads even before you finished the first sentence of the Associated Press’ news dispatch last week from Cairo:
“Egypt’s Islamist president unilaterally decreed greater authorities for himself Thursday and effectively neutralized a judicial system that had emerged as a key opponent by declaring that the courts are barred from challenging his decisions.”
So much for Egypt’s provisional constitution. You know – the one that promises that the nation will be a “democratic state” that derives its sovereignty from the consent of the governed?
Morsi insists that his decree is merely temporary, with the aim of hastening reform. Really? In the same way that gasoline can hasten the extinguishing of a fire?
All this came less than a day after Morsi won praise from sections of the international community for his role in brokering a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian ruling party Hamas.
Now, what was perhaps Morsi’s single thread of political credibility has unraveled virtually overnight because of yet another of his naked power grabs. He pulled a similar stunt in August when he told the supreme commander of Egypt’s military and its chief of staff to clean out their desks – after which Morsi assumed their powers.
Now, under the guise of a constitutional declaration, he’s telling Egyptians that he essentially will rule unchallenged until legislative elections are held next year. That is, if they are held.
And how did Egyptians respond? With riots approaching the same scale of the 2011 “Arab Spring” riots that booted Egypt’s previous president, Hosni Mubarak – not exactly a beacon of liberty, either.
But at least he wasn’t an Islamist, which Morsi is. And the prospect of his anti-secular Muslim Brotherhood party dominating power in Egypt suggests a much more grim future for Israel specifically, and the stability of the Arab world in general.
Morsi promised to iron things out Monday with Egypt’s senior judges, who want to limit the scope of the president’s newly stated powers. A hearing challenging Morsi’s decree has been scheduled for Dec. 4. Actually, the declaration should be rescinded as if it never happened.
But whatever palliative words Morsi delivers to the judiciary, the damage already has been done, and if there were any lingering doubts about Morsi’s true intentions as president of Egypt, those doubts have been blown away like so much desert sand.
Mohamed ElBaradei, an Egyptian opposition leader and winner of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, has dubbed the increasingly autocratic Morsi a “new pharoah,” and that term has become a common refrain among growing mobs of protesters.
In a part of the world starved for political stability, Morsi’s machinations could not have come at a worse time. Egypt needs real democracy, not Islamist-backed inflammation.