Magazine article The Middle East

Is the Writing on the Wall for Mr. Morsi? It Once Seemed So Promising: Out with the Despot and in with the Reformer. but the Quest for Democracy Has Not Gone as Planned for Egyptians. by Sharif Nashashibi, with a Special Report from Mel Frykberg in Cairo

Magazine article The Middle East

Is the Writing on the Wall for Mr. Morsi? It Once Seemed So Promising: Out with the Despot and in with the Reformer. but the Quest for Democracy Has Not Gone as Planned for Egyptians. by Sharif Nashashibi, with a Special Report from Mel Frykberg in Cairo

Article excerpt

EGYPT'S REVOLUTION HAS MORE TWISTS and turns than the TV series Homeland. It is hard to tell whether we are seeing its continuation and resurgence, or a new uprising altogether. Ironically, this latest crisis was sparked by President Mohammed Morsi, the very person brought to power by the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

In November 2012, Morsi announced that all decisions, laws and declarations passed by him since taking office could not be appealed or revoked, and that Egypt's Islamist-dominated, constitution-drafting body and the Shura Council (the upper house of parliament) could not be dissolved.

Dictatorial Decree

These shockingly dictatorial decrees have generated understandable public fury. Hundreds of thousands have taken part in continuous and growing demonstrations throughout the country, the judiciary is up in arms, print and broadcast media went on strike, and six of Morsi's advisers have resigned.

There has also been international condemnation. "We are very concerned about the possible huge ramifications of this declaration on human rights and the rule of law in Egypt," said Rupert Colville, spokesman for UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay.

Morsi claimed, rather bizarrely, that these decrees were necessary to safeguard the transition away from dictatorship, and "in order to hold accountable those responsible for the corruption as well as other crimes during the previous regime and the transitional period." However, this should be the job of the judiciary, and it is difficult to see how placing himself above the law would do anything but hinder the democratic process.

Revolutionary Courts

The attempted bypassing of the judiciary is due to accusations from the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, that it is a remnant of the Mubarak era, a claim vehemently denied by judges. Morsi's newly appointed prosecutor general has said that "revolutionary courts" will be set up that could see Mubarak, his sons and his top security chiefs retried "should there be new evidence."

However, why retry Mubarak and his sons when the supposedly sympathetic judiciary sentenced them to life imprisonment for killing protesters? Six security chiefs were acquitted in the same case, sparking nationwide outrage, but if Morsi's intention was to garner public favour over this issue, it has spectacularly backfired. Indeed, his biggest crisis since taking office in June is entirely of his own making, a massive fall from grace for a president who successfully curbed the powers of the unpopular and authoritarian military, and has restored sovereignty and independence to Egypt's foreign policy following Mubarak's reviled subservience to the US.

Military warning

In fact, the military--to which Morsi has ironically given powers of arrest--has said in a statement that it "won't allow" Egypt to be forced "into a dark tunnel with disastrous consequences." This has raised speculation that it may seek to govern the country again if the crisis is not resolved soon.

Some analysts believe Morsi's intention was to use his foreign policy successes--including brokering the end of Israel's latest assault against Gaza--to offset a popular backlash against his decrees. If this is the case, it clearly has not worked.

The democratically elected president--now referred to as "the new pharaoh" and "Morsillini", after Italian dictator Benito Mussolini--promised to relinquish absolute power when a draft constitution is approved --replacing the one suspended after Mubarak's ouster --with a referendum initially set for 15 December.

Although the public outcry forced Morsi to do so prior to this date, the damage was done, and he refused to heed opposition demands that the referendum be postponed so that a more inclusive constitution could be drafted. This has led to vows that the revolution will continue, and even to calls that he step down. …

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