Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood president just gave himself potentially dictatorial powers, prompting fears that history might be repeating itself
While Americans were eating their Thanksgiving meals, watching football, or maybe even preparing for Black Friday shopping, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was giving himself sweeping new powers. Fresh off helping broker a ceasefire between Egypt and Hamas-led Gaza, the Muslim Brotherhood–affiliated president issued an edict that, among other things, fired Egypt's equivalent of the attorney general, and, more infamously, made his presidential decrees immune from judicial oversight until a new constitution is enacted. Morsi emphasized Friday that his new powers are only temporary, and there are signs he's willing to compromise, but the judiciary is in revolt, Egypt's stock market is tanking, and protesters have taken to the streets accusing Morsi of trying to recreate the stranglehold on power enjoyed by recently ousted leader Hosni Mubarak. Is Morsi pushing Egypt toward an Islamist version of Mubarak's dictatorship?
Egypt does seem to be returning to autocracy: "Morsi has fallen victim to what Bill Clinton calls 'brass,'" says David Rohde at Reuters. He says his overreaching, "hubristic post-Gaza power grab" is temporary, but "unfortunately, we've seen this script before. It almost always turns out badly." America and the international community gave billions to Mubarak, with grim results. If Morsi wants cash, he needs to get Egypt back on track to democracy. We shouldn't "make the strongman mistake twice."
No. Morsi is trying to create a power balance: It's naive to think that Morsi wouldn't try to wrest power from the Mubarak-stacked, antagonistic judiciary, says Steve Clemons at The Atlantic. "Indeed, for Morsi to become a great leader and deliver on democracy and the successful transition from a dark era to a better one for Egypt, he needs to continue to challenge other weak or rotten sectors of society." But those rooting for democracy to take hold — including, by his rhetoric, Morsi himself — need to push for robust checks and balances, including a strong legislature, independent judges, and powerful generals.
"Mohammed Morsi: Abe Lincoln in Disguise or Another Mubarak?"
It's too soon to tell how this will end: It is certainly hypocritical of the Supreme Judicial Council to accuse Morsi of dictatorship right after it invalidated the lower house of parliament, says Thomas R. Eddlem at The New American. And Morsi's decree is almost certainly designed to head off the rumored nullification of the upper house, and maybe even the presidential election. But Morsi has granted himself "theoretically unlimited" power, and that's obviously troubling. We'll find out soon if Egypt is getting a "new Pharaoh," or a leader like the Roman Consul Cincinnatus, who opted to "walk away from dictatorial power and hand it all back to the legislative branch" when his work was done.
"Egypt's Morsi: New Pharaoh or Egyptian Cincinnatus?"
Other stories from this topic:
- Instant Guide: Morsi's power play in Egypt: Will the military fight back?
- Fact Sheet: Hillary Clinton's rough reception in Egypt: What it means
- Forecast: Egypt's political standoff: 4 possible outcomes