Morsi's Power Grab: 'There Was a Disease but This Is Not the Remedy'

Democracy in Egypt is still possible; the country's president isn't helping, though.



After helping end the fighting in Gaza, impressing President Barack Obama, and negotiating a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has fallen victim to what Bill Clinton calls "brass."

Morsi's hubristic post-Gaza power grab on Thursday was politically tone deaf, strategic folly and classic over-reach. It will deepen Egypt's political polarization, scare off desperately needed foreign investment and squander Egypt's rising credibility in the region and the world.

Television images of renewed clashes in Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said, and Suez will play into stereotypes that the Middle East is not ready for democracy. They will bolster suspicions inside and outside Egypt that the Muslim Brotherhood cannot be trusted.

The Democracy ReportI disagree with the skeptics and believe democracy can still be established in Egypt. But Morsi's moves won't help Egypt make the difficult transition.

"There was a disease but this is not the remedy," Hassan Nafaa, a liberal political science professor and activist at Cairo University, told Reuters Friday. "We are going towards more polarization between the Islamist front on one hand and all the others on the other. This is a dangerous situation."

An alarming dynamic is taking hold in Egypt. Power-grabs, brinksmanship and walk-outs are becoming the norm, as a bitter struggle plays out among newly empowered Islamists, vestiges of the Mubarak regime and the country's deeply divided liberals. Political paralysis is the result -- with rule by presidential decree, overreach by the judiciary, and a deadlocked constitutional assembly. As polarization deepens, desperately needed economic, political, and judicial reforms stall.

Friday's street protests were relatively small compared to the massive Arab spring demonstrations. But the trend is in the wrong direction.

"President Morsi has used the nearly absolute authority he assumed last August," Nathan Brown warned in an excellent analysis for The Arabist, "to try to put that absolute authority beyond reach, at least on a temporary basis. He may very well succeed."

In a surprising triumph in August, Morsi abruptly ended the Egyptian military's post-Mubarak rule of the country. After apparently gaining the support of younger military officers, Morsi forced older, pro-Mubarak officers, led by Field Marshall Muhamad Hussein Tantawi, into retirement. Morsi then seized sweeping powers.

In one positive sign, Morsi used his new authority sparingly. Critics who feared an Islamist crackdown were proven wrong. His boldest move was a failed October attempt to remove the country's unpopular prosecutor general, a Mubarak holdover widely criticized for mounting lenient prosecutions of Mubarak and other former officials. When the prosecutor, Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, refused to obey Morsi's order to resign, the new president quickly backed down.

That restraint vanished on Thursday. Morsi removed the unpopular prosecutor, opened the doors for a re-trial of Mubarak and other officials, and granted himself and the country's constitutional assembly immunity from rulings by the country' pro-Mubarak judiciary. Critics feared pro-Mubarak judges would dissolve the constitutional assembly, just as they had dissolved the country's first democratically elected parliament before Morsi was elected president in June.

Presented by

David Rohde is an investigative reporter for Reuters and a contributing editor for The Atlantic. A two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, he is a former foreign correspondent for The New York Times and The Christian Science Monitor. His latest book, Beyond War: Reimagining American Influence in a New Middle East, was published in 2013. More

He is also the author of Endgame and, with Kristen Mulvihill, A Rope and a Prayer. He lives in New York City.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Global

Just In