Power grab

Egyptian president Mohammad Morsi’s arrogation of power – he has taken nearly total control over all branches of government, including the judiciary – has triggered fears that he is steering Egypt into another phase of dictatorial rule.

Morsi’s action is directed at clipping the wings of the judiciary, which is dominated by appointees of ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak. It is aimed at preempting the judiciary from deciding the fate of the new constitution that an Islamist-dominated committee is crafting for Egypt.

Determined to usher in an Islamic constitution, Morsi has assumed enormous powers, including immunity from judicial oversight regarding any laws he issues until that constitution is in place. He has sought to defend his decision by describing it as temporary and necessary to protect the fruits of the revolution. While it is true that remnants of the Mubarak regime remain entrenched in the power structure and are powerful obstacles in the way of the changes that Egypt’s revolutionaries dreamt of when they poured into Tahrir Square in 2011, Morsi’s ‘constitutional coup’ and his assault on the independence of the judiciary undermine checks and balances that are vital for the proper functioning of any democracy. Backing Morsi’s authoritarian moves were demonstrations by his Muslim Brotherhood last week, where activists called for ‘purging’ of the judiciary. Egypt is sliding towards turmoil and worse - dictatorial rule.

Morsi’s actions have set off fierce resistance from the judiciary as also the opposition, especially the leftists and the secular sections. Besides thousands of Egyptians who participated in the anti-Mubarak protests are back on the streets protesting Morsi’s assault on Egypt’s fledgling democracy. They aspired for a secular and democratic Egypt post-Mubarak. When the Brotherhood joined mainstream politics Egyptians hoped it would democratise itself.

Such hopes stand dashed today as the Brotherhood has emerged as a mirror image of the Mubarak regime it replaced. The similarities are striking. Like his predecessor Morsi is authoritarian in his outlook and functioning and will not hesitate to use force to silence his opposition. 

Morsi is determined to give Egypt an Islamic constitution; his latest power grab is aimed at facilitating that. He will brook no opposition to that project. Therefore, his government can be expected to unleash violence to quell the mounting street protests.  Egypt’s transition to democracy was predicted to be difficult. Morsi has made it more tortuous.

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