With the new “constitutional declaration” issued on November 22, President
Mohamed Morsi completed his takeover of Egypt. He now holds all executive,
legislative and judicial powers; furthermore he denies anyone the right to
cancel the laws and decrees he issued since he took office on June
Former Egyptian presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Hosni Mubarak, who
ruled with an iron hand, never went that far. To all intents and purposes Morsi
has become a dictator whose prerogatives are only rivaled by those of the
president of North Korea. This has been achieved through what is nothing less
than a putsch against the constitutional legitimacy of the country. It is so
patently illegal that a leader attempting it anywhere else would be thrown out
of office, but Morsi was nothing but thorough.
According to the
declaration “the president may take the necessary actions and measures to
protect the country and the goals of the revolution.”
This is going even
further than the infamous emergency laws of Mubarak which were repelled only a
scant few months ago. Obviously the president feels that he has nothing to fear
from the police, the security apparatus, or the army.
What we are seeing
is the end of the first phase of the revolution which included the toppling of
Mubarak, the emergence of radical Islam as the dominant force in the country and
the relentless drive of the Muslim Brotherhood to take control of all power
Now that they have achieved their aim, Egypt is entering into the
second phase: a fight to the last between religious extremism and democracy. The
Muslim Brotherhood has so far managed to hoodwink the people of Egypt. They have
proceeded one step at a time. First they proclaimed that they would only present
candidates for one third of the seats of the parliament – then they fought for
every single one, gaining 47 percent of the seats. Then they said they would not
field a candidate for the presidency – but they did, and put their formidable
social network behind him.
Morsi was elected; he promised to appoint a
Copt and a woman as vice presidents, but promptly forgot about it. He
immediately got to work, getting rid of the army old guard and appointing new
officers in their stead. He then turned to the judiciary, long known for its
strength and independence. The Supreme Constitutional Court had ordered the
parliament dissolved because its election had been rife with
Morsi decided to convene it nevertheless – but had to
back down after a stern warning from the court. A few weeks later he fired the
attorney general – who refused to stand down and told him he did not have the
power to oust him, the judiciary being independent of the
Morsi had to back down again. Not for long. With the
constitutional declaration he gave himself as we have seen executive,
legislative and judicial powers – thus becoming powerful as pharaoh, as the
Egyptians were prompt to point out.
But then something happened. The
Egyptians were no longer ready to bow to a dictator. They had lost their fear
and were now ready to take to the streets to fight for their freedom, though
they knew that there would be fighting, there would be wounded and that people
There was an immediate outcry after the publication of the
This was not completely unexpected; the Brotherhood had called on
their members to flock to Tahrir square and voice their support for the
Incidentally, this demonstrates that the Muslim Brotherhood are
in charge and that the president follow their directives. In any case, they had
not anticipated the strength of the opposition to the declaration.
Morsi is trying to calm things down, explaining that his only wish is to
preserve the revolution and that the declaration is only temporary; it will be
rescinded as soon as a new constitution is approved and new elections
This time, people are not so ready to believe him. Opposition to
Morsi and to the Brotherhood is growing.
There are street demonstrations;
the headquarters of the Brotherhood have been attacked throughout the country.
So far two people have died and hundreds have been wounded.
figures such as Mohamed El-Baradei and Amr Moussa, Hamdeen Sabahi, and Ayman Nour
all proclaimed that they would be satisfied with nothing less but the
cancellation of the constitutional declaration. Once again, a mass demonstration
is due to be held today Tuesday, while the Muslim Brotherhood is getting ready
for a counter demonstration. A ploy only seen in dictatorial
What next? Morsi may try to reach a compromise by backing down
on some points to appease the powerful opposition. It is clear to all that this
would be a temporary measure.
Morsi will try again. The opposition is
unlikely to give in. Are we seeing the beginning of a new revolution, one that
might this time put Egypt on the road to democracy? Will Morsi stand firm
whatever the human cost? It will be very interesting to see US President Barack
After all, only last week he praised Morsi for his role
in brokering the cease-fire between Hamas and Israel.
Will he now throw
his weight behind the opposition? Once again, one can only hope...
writer is a former ambassador to Egypt.