Saturday, 24 November 2012

Mursi's Egypt

President Mursi has got himself a lot of media space over the last few days. Sweeping powers to overrule the courts and make laws. Why? The headlines and even the news features themselves tell us very little. Instead they feature angry Egyptians who feel betrayed by this move, or militant followers who approve. I did catch a very balanced piece of reporting on radio 4 however. What I heard made me less inclined to be critical of Mursi. He finds himself in a position where many of the judiciary were appointed by President Mubarak. They are still in place. Not only can they effectively block or overturn new democratic procedures, but they have once before disbanded the assembly that is writing the new Egyptian constitution. He was afraid they might try to do this again, and indeed, there were reports that the courts might be about to do this.
That could seriously derail the transition to democracy, further delaying new parliamentary elections, which could deter Egypt's political leaders from taking tough decisions while they wait for the vote.
So what is the problem?
Well, perhaps it is about the way this has happened.

The president failed to consult with other political forces, acting in an autocratic manner reminiscent of his predecessor. Indeed, he has taken more power than Hosni Mubarak ever claimed, with almost no constraints at all. And his attempt to sideline the judiciary is reminiscent of the early power-grab of the Free Officers in 1954, the beginning of what is now being seen as six decades of military dictatorship in Egypt.
As a result, many Egyptians fear the real agenda is not to protect the revolution, but to increase the power of President Mursi, and of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement from which he comes. In particular, there is an accusation that the underlying aim is to enable the constitutional assembly - currently dominated by Islamists - to write an Islamist constitution for Egypt.
So there is an interesting story to be told about this affair. I for one am inclined to the side of those who feel this is a necessary step to further safeguard this fledgling democracy. But time will tell, and in the hotbed of feeling in that part of the word, time may well be short supply.

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