Thanks be to "UP with Chris Hayes" for being the only Sunday outlet willing to take the time to have a nuanced and informed discussion on what's happening in Egypt. When newly elected Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi took advantage of the wave of world admiration for helping to broker a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel to declare that there would be no challenges to his presidency, there was a collective gulp in the media. Were we looking at yet another ruthless dictator-for-life in an area that was just starting to sow the seeds of democracy? Looking for signs of dissent, the media reported that Egypt's supreme judicial council condemned the action and the all-important stock market plummeted. From Foreign Policy blog:
Had Morsi stopped there, there would have been a clear narrative of a pragmatic, effective new Egyptian government. But of course, he did not. Instead, he made his unprecedented bid to centralize power in the office of the Presidency, a bold Calvinball move redefining the rules of the game in mid-play which immediately ignited a new political crisis. Opposition politicians ceased their bickering for the moment to unify around a denunciation of the power grab. A larger than normal crowd descended on Tahrir and protest broke out around the country, along with depressingly familiary violent clashes between security forces and the opposition. Meanwhile, Muslim Brotherhood supporters mobilized in counter-demonstrations. Rumors ran wild about coming moves to prosecute political enemies, purge the media, and more.
A case could have been made for Morsi's Constitutional Decree had he not pushed it too far. The judiciary has played an erratic, unpredictable and politicized role throughout the transition, with its controversial decisions such as the dissolution of Parliament. Its Calvinball approach to the rules, in the absence of either a Constitution or a political consensus, introduced enormous and unnecessary uncertainty into the transition and badly undermined the legitimacy of the process. Morsi was not the only one who despaired of Cairo's political polarization and institutional gridlock. But none of that can justify his assertion of executive immunity from oversight or accountability, declaring his decisions "final and binding and cannot be appealed in any way or to any entity." And then there was Article VI, asserting the power to do literally anything "to protect the country and the goals of the revolution." That Morsi was elected has nothing to do with his attempt to place himself above the law. Nor does the expiration date of his extraordinary powers (after Parliamentary elections and the Constitutional referendum) reassure in the slightest. The pushback which is now taking place on the streets and in the courthouse and in the public sphere is exactly what needs to happen, even if the increasing turn towards existential opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood rather than toward specific political issues is disturbing. For all the polarization and ugliness of the street clashes, this intense engagement with politics and unwillingness to accept Morsi's diktat are positive signs of the vitality of Egypt's vibrant, ornery and contentious new politics. It shows yet again that there is no going back to the old patterns of Egyptian or Arab politics.
It's ridiculous and arrogant to predict at this point how these events will resolve. Then truth of the matter is that Egypt is a nation without a rule of law at this point and Morsi's actions may indeed be the stop-gap he claims as a new constitution is being written. But moreover, any interference by the US to fight the notion of dictatorial powers for Morsi may end up giving us the exact opposite result that we want. The Egyptian people are fighting for democracy on their own. But like the Iranians who re-elected Ahmadinejad after he was declared one of the "axis of evil", the Egyptians will not likely sit still for American interference and will view us--not a dictator--as the force to fight.