What The Hell Just Happened In Egypt?


Last week's power grab by President Mohamed Morsi essentially nullified the Egyptian judiciary, a supposedly temporary move which nonetheless led to to wide-ranging protests and violence across the country.  Issandr El Amrani analyzes the situation:

Were Mr Morsi a beloved national leader of the stature of a Nelson Mandela, he might have pulled it off. But he is the backup candidate of an organisation – the Muslim Brotherhood – mistrusted by many of his countrymen. He was elected (narrowly) by a coalition brought together by the fact that his opponent was worse. And he made this decision at a time of unprecedented polarisation – over the constitution and religion's role within it, over the performance of the cabinet, and indeed over the poor excuse for a transitional framework to democracy that the country inherited from 16 months of disastrous military rule. Mr Morsi's political capital is simply not as plentiful as he seems to believe, as the furious reaction by opposition leaders and protesters on Friday showed.

Brian Ulrich doubts this is the beginning of a Morsi dictatorship. Instead, he thinks the Muslim Brotherhood "works on collaborative party rule as in China":

I can't picture this as a personal dictatorship of Muhammad Morsi the same way Mubarak sat atop his own system. Morsi was the back-up candidate for Muslim Brotherhood bigwig Khairat al-Shater, and it seems certain he still works in conjunction with the Muslim Brotherhood leadership as a whole.

Peter Hessler believes the Muslim Brotherhood's power is far from absolute:

I’m not convinced that we are seeing a Muslim Brotherhood attempt at dictatorship. Some of this is basic logic. The Egyptian army is still powerful, and after decades of opposition it retains a deep institutional distrust of the Brotherhood. I don’t believe that anybody can become a dictator here without the full support of the army. Meanwhile, the opinion of the public still matters a great deal—protestors can gather at any moment, sometimes violently, and the media is essentially free.

Mara Revkin notes that Egypt's judiciary is fighting back:

In a constitutional no man's land where power flows from revolutionary legitimacy, not law, Morsi's declaration is toothless without buy-in from the street, and more importantly, the judges who will make or break its enforcement. Picking fights with the arbiters of justice is usually a losing battle, and Morsi's assault on the judiciary is no exception. As Egypt's judicial authorities mobilize to defend their territory from executive overreach, Morsi is about to find out how untouchable his powers really are.  

Marc Lynch weighs in:

A case could have been made for Morsi's constitutional decree had he not pushed it too far. The judiciary has played an erratic, unpredictable, and politicized role throughout the transition, with its controversial decisions such as the dissolution of parliament. ItsCalvinball approach to the rules, in the absence of either a constitution or a political consensus, introduced enormous and unnecessary uncertainty into the transition and badly undermined the legitimacy of the process. Morsi was not the only one who despaired of Cairo's political polarization and institutional gridlock. But none of that can justify his assertion of executive immunity from oversight or accountability, declaring his decisions "final and binding and cannot be appealed in any way or to any entity." And then there was Article VI, asserting the power to do literally anything "to protect the country and the goals of the revolution." That Morsi was elected has nothing to do with his attempt to place himself above the law. Nor does the expiration date of his extraordinary powers (after parliamentary elections and the constitutional referendum) reassure in the slightest.

Nathan Brown adds:

Those who oppose these moves need not only unity but a strategy. And that has never been their strong suit. And if they do fail, then Egypt’s best hope for democracy may be a Morsi metamorphasis into an Egyptian Cincinnatus. Perhaps he will use his authority to protect a process that will build a functioning democratic and pluralistic system. That is not impossible. But it’s an odd way to build a democracy.

Large protests are planned for Tuesday.

(Photo: A general view shows thousands of protestors in Cairo's landmark Tahrir square during a demonstration against Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Morsi on November 23, 2012. In a few cities Egyptian protesters set fire to Muslim Brotherhood offices, state television reported, as rival rallies were held nationwide the day after Morsi assumed sweeping new powers. By Ahmed Mahmoud/AFP/Getty Images)