The recent Hamas-Israel confrontation ended abruptly when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced last Wednesday, November 21, a ceasefire that essentially put the relatively new, largely unknown Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in the role of peacekeeper for Israel and Gaza.
“Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace,” exclaimed US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Well, Egypt had been a source of stability in the area, but Egypt’s new leader was not exactly in the mold of a Mubarak. At least not in the positive ways.
The day after the U.S. administration cast Morsi in the role of new peacekeeper, he recast himself as something more like a new pharoah. And, despite what the New York Times and the Washington Post wrote, he is not giving back any of the real power he’s granted himself.
On Thursday, November 22, while most Americans were eating turkey, Mohamed Morsi, the post-revolutionary leader of Egypt, issued a stunning series of decrees in which he usurped virtually all governmental power. Morsi placed himself above the judiciary, sidelined the moderates in his council and signaled to all that his lifetime in the Muslim Brotherhood is his essence, no matter what role the U.S. seeks to cast him in. He was now – in virtually every way possible – above the law.
Secularists, liberals, women, journalists, and Christians have all resigned from the council, out of protest over the dominating influence of the Muslim Brothers and Salafists. Nearly one quarter of its members walked out.
The Egyptian people were – briefly – stunned, and then they came back to doing what they do best: they rioted, and were beaten – some to death – in Tahrir Square.
After three days of ugliness captured on film and in photographs, President Morsi seemed to acknowledge he had gone too far, and “reminded” his people that his usurpation of power is intended to be only temporary, “until a new constitution is ratified. ”
Yeah, right. When was the last time a dictator decided it was time to relinquish his control?
In at least one draft of the constitution, the Islamists insisted on changing women’s rights and obligations to match those under the rules of Sharia law. This would require all women to wear the hijab and to be subservient to men, as is the case in Saudi Arabia and Iran. If Sharia is to be applied, the rulings will have to be interpreted by Muslim legal scholars who would then have the same status as constitutional judges.
There have also been discussions in the constitutional council about lowering the legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 14, or even to as young as 9 years. The constitutional council, which is now dominated by Islamists, could have been disbanded under the constitutional court, but Morsi’s decree made the council immune from such action.
The 2012 Egyptian uprising already has its first martyr – a teenager, Gaber Salah, nicknamed “Jika,” a member of the April 6 movement. The boy died from wounds he received during confrontations between police and protesters on Mohammed Mahmud street where protesters had been marking the first anniversary of deadly clashes.
Two other protesters have since died, the latest, Monday morning, November 26. Since Morsi issued his dictatorial decree, there have been three deaths, more than 450 injuries, more than 260 detainees, and most of Egypt’s courts have been on strike.
Throughout the day on Monday, clashes were reported between pro- and anti-Morsi protesters in eight governorates. Those clashes reportedly took place in Alexandria, Ismailia, Assiut, Port-Said, Suez, Mahalla, Damietta, Menya, and Aswan.
Not surprisingly, the Muslim Brotherhood issued an official statement in support of Morsi’s declaration, one that is highly critical of the opposition. The Brotherhood stated that Morsi’s actions were taken in order to rid the government of Mubarak holdovers and to fully complete the revolution and attain stability, “economic prosperity and social justice” for all Egyptians.
The Brotherhood described all those who oppose Morsi’s actions as seeking to keep Egypt in a state of chaos “as a prelude to toppling the elected regime and grabbing power.”
The Brotherhood claimed that certain political leaders were promoting distorted views of the president’s Decree. The statement continued:
Thus they went out in counter-demonstrations chanting insults and obscenities for slogans. Joining them were groups of thugs who went on the rampage, destroying and burning the headquarters of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in Alexandria and in other cities. Others attacked police officers with Molotov bombs and stones, setting public and private institutions on fire.Then we heard irresponsible calls for escalation, sabotage and strike actions to disable state facilities. All this is certainly neither wise nor patriotic. In fact, it ignores the higher interests of the country, the popular will and the majority that represents the principles of democracy, which all parties claim to respect.Despite material and moral harm, we still call on everyone to show a spirit of responsibility and to work with citizens to gain their trust. We call for honest political rivalry to achieve the interests of the country in the light of democracy and justice.The majority of Egyptians, including the Muslim Brotherhood, strongly support the President’s Decrees, seek to build constitutional institutions and achieve the demands of the people and the revolution.
Earlier this week, more than a dozen groups called for mass demonstrations across the country on Tuesday to protest Morsi’s decree and the Constituent Assembly. Those groups include the liberal Constitution party, the Socialist Popular Alliance party, the Egyptian Social Democratic party, the leftist Popular Alliance, the Free Egyptians party, the Karama party, the April 6 Youth Movement, the National Association for Change, the Revolutionary Socialists, the Youth for Justice and Freedom movement, the Kefaya movement and several others.
The U.S. Embassy in Cairo announced that it will be closed today, November 27, in order to avoid anticipated violence between anti- and pro-Morsi factions.
The Egyptian Government and its supporters also announced plans to hold rallies today, but after moving the location from Tahrir Square to Cairo University, the pro-Morsi factions eventually cancelled their events.
Thus far the U.S. government has been largely silent about the roiling unrest in Egypt. The State Department’s spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, “We call for calm and encourage all parties to work together and call for all Egyptians to resolve their differences over these important issues peacefully and through democratic dialogue.”
But Egypt is heavily dependent on the U.S. for financial aid. Will this country use its financial leverage to dissuade Morsi from continuing in his dictatorial march?
According to the American Enterprise Institute’s vice-president for foreign and defense policy studies Danielle Pletka, “Obama has already made it clear he’s okay with Egypt as Morsi likes it – refusing to suspend aid after Morsi ignored attacks on the US Embassy in Cairo.” Pletka then asks, “Will Congress take the same attitude?”
Pointing out that the Senate refused to suspend aid to Pakistan, Egypt and Libya in the wake of anti-U.S. demonstrations on 9/11 this year, Pletka wonders whether Congress will simply rubber stamp the $1.5 billion in taxpayer dollars without making some demands? And, “shouldn’t those conditions relate to rule of law, treatment of minorities, economic reform, and other priorities that could insulate the Egyptian people from yet another pharaoh?”
On Monday, tensions rose in Egypt as protests continued in the streets. An anxiously anticipated meeting between the judiciary and President Morsi took place late in the day. It was an effort to negotiate a compromise between what the judiciary could accept, and what President Morsi was willing to relinquish of his newly-wrested powers.
The meeting ended with an announcement issued by Morsi’s spokesperson. That statement was covered by a New York Times article which was headlined: “Egypt’s Leader Said to Agree to Limit Scope of Judicial Decree.” Well, the title of the article is correct, Morsi did say that, but a more than cursory review of Morsi’s statement reveals something quite different.
Following his meeting with the Supreme Judicial Council, Morsi issued a statement that his decrees would only remain immune from judicial review in cases pertaining to “sovereign matters.” But of course, it is entirely within Morsi’s control to decide what constitutes a “sovereign matter.” In other words, there was no agreement whatsoever.
On December 4, a case brought by lawyers and activists challenging Morsi’s power grab will be heard by a Cairo administrative court. More than a dozen suits against the decree have been filed, according to Abdel Meguid Al-Moqannen, the deputy chief of the State Council, Egypt’s highest administrative body.
In one indication of Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi’s quirky rise to fame, Time Magazine included Morsi in its list of potential “2012 Person of the Year” candidates for online polling.
In the short time that Morsi has become almost a household name, he has gone from rock star status to one who is being referred to in the social media of Twitter as “Morsilini” and “Mubarak 2.0.” He probably considers the latter a bigger insult.
UPDATE: During protests taking place today in Cairo, 50 year old Fathy Gharib, a member of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party (SPAP), died of asphyxiation from tear gas inhalation. According to eyewitnesses, there are hundreds of thousands of anti-Morsi protesters in the streets. Tahrir Square is bursting with people chanting.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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