Morsi’s Second Coup Provokes Mass Protest in Egypt

Egypt’s president Muhammad Morsi, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s civil wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, issued a wide-ranging set of decrees on Thursday that greatly enhanced his power and would have led to a constitutional crisis if there were a constitution. He seems likely, in any case, to have set off substantial social turmoil, on the eve of the second anniversary of the beginning of the movement against his predecessor. He appears buoyed by the close working relationship he developed with US president Barack Obama during the Gaza crisis and by his success in facing down Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the question of an Israeli land invasion of Gaza.

Prominent Egyptian liberals and leftists denounced the decrees and pledged to go to the streets to overturn them.

Among the steps Morsi took was to fire the public prosecutor (roughly, attorney general), Mubarak holdover Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, replacing him with Talaat Ibrahim Abdallah (who is alleged to be the brother-in-law of the vice president, who is from the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party).

A constituent assembly had been appointed by the parliament before it was dissolved, but it was found illicit by the courts, which ruled that parliamentarians could not serve on it. It was therefore reformed to exclude the Freedom and Justice Party members of parliament who had tried to dominate it. This body is still hammering out a constitution, and Morsi on Thursday extended its deadline from the end of the year to the end of February.

Morsi appears to have feared that the constitutional court might dissolve the constituent assembly, which has a Muslim Brotherhood bias and from which prominent secularists, Christians and even fair-minded Muslims have increasingly resigned. This crumbling of support for the body and its work, which is said to have restricted personal freedoms *more* than the 1971 constitution, may have opened it to court action on its legitimacy. One of Morsi’s decrees therefore forbade the courts to impugn the constitution-drafting body.

The 7 decrees can be summarized as follows:

1) All officials of the Mubarak regime who were implicated in violence against protesters will be investigated yet again and possibly retried.

2) None of Morsi’s executive orders issued since June 30, 2012, can be abrogated by the courts and all suits launched against them are hereby dismissed.

3) The public prosecutor (~attorney general) will be appointed for 4 years by the judiciary.

4) The Constituent Assembly will be granted an extra 2 months to finish drafting the constitution.

5) No court may dissolve the Constituent Assembly or the upper house of parliament.

6) The president may take any steps he feels necessary to preserve the revolution, or national unity, or the country’s security.

7) This decree will be published in the Official Gazette.

ABC/ BBC has a video report on the Morsi decrees:

The new public prosecutor announced that he would retry Hosni Mubarak and former Interior Minister Habib Adly. Many officials appear destined by these decrees for retrial, apparently on the theory that former prosecutor Mahmoud had run interference for them. Morsi is especially interested in looking again at officials and police accused of using violence against demonstrators during the movement to overthrow Mubarak. He further pledged to pay pensions to those wounded or made disabled during the revolution.

The retrial of officials and security personnel who ordered violence against the protesters is a demand of the Egyptian masses, spearheaded by the New Left, and these steps appear to be aimed at pacifying the opposition. If so, Morsi badly misjudged how easy it would be to buy them off.

Secularists and leftists were furious at these decrees, and were especially anxious about no. 6 above, which is worrisomely vague and broad. Some called for Morsi to be impeached.

But the High Constitutional Court promptly denied that it had the prerogative of removing the president, though it seems to differ with him on whether it can dissolve the constituent assembly drafting the constitution.

Morsi’s rivals for the presidency in the first round of last May came out against these decrees. Leftist Hamdeen Sabahi, a favorite of the unions, denounced what he called an ‘unprecedented dictatorship.’ He worried that Morsi seemed poised to reinstate the Brotherhood-dominated parliament of fall, 2011, which the courts had dissolved for electoral fraud. The Brotherhood would then have two of the three branches of government without having to conduct new elections for the legislature.

The New Left organization, April 6, had typically avoided slamming the Brotherhood, fearing the Mubarak holdovers and the military much more. But on Thursday for the first time I noticed prominent April 6 leaders such as Asma Mahfouz denouncing Morsi. The New Left, the old Left, and the secularists are all calling for anti-Morsi protests in Tahrir Square on Friday.

Aljazeera English has a video report on the protest movement:

These decrees are the second time Morsi has used his electoral victory of last June to challenge holdovers from the old Mubarak regime. In mid-August, Morsi weakened the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) by forcing its top officers to retire (including Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi and Army Chief of Staff Sami Anan). SCAF had attempted to declare itself the de facto legislature of the country, and had issued decrees curbing Morsi’s presidential prerogatives. Morsi appears to have connived with a second tier of officers less hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood, promising them high appointments if they supported his move against Tantawi’s circle. Morsi abrogated the ‘constitutional addendum’ that SCAF had issued in June, and we’ve never heard anything more about the officer corps being the legislature.

(The parliament elected in fall of 2011 was dissolved by the Egyptian constitutional court because the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi fundamentalists illegally ran party candidates for the one third of seats reserved for independents, allowing them to dominate the lower house).

21 Responses

  1. Decree No. 6 should worry anyone who has hopes that Egypt might be able to establish a viable democratic government. That it has provoked protests on the Left and among secularists is understandable. But the real worry should be the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists who remain silent, indicating tacit (or full?) agreement.

    On March 23, 1933, with Hitler in power as Chancellor, the German Parliament passed the Enabling Act. Under the Act, the government acquired the authority to pass laws without parliamentary consent. Laws passed under the Enabling Act could (with certain exceptions) even deviate from the Constitution. The Act effectively eliminated the Reichstag as active players. This marked the beginning of Hitler’s dictatorship.

    Decree No. 6 appears to grant Morsi similar powers. Similar decrees have been used by every dictator to consolidate power. Egyptians should apply all the pressure they can in order to force Morsi to back down and retract this decree before it is too late and becomes a “fait accompli.” It would set a very dangerous precedent.

    • Don’t compare Morsi to Adolf Hitler; he is American educated with a PhD and was an engineer for NASA. He knows the American political system and democracy in general.

      That said, there are disturbing paralells between Decree No.6 and the rise of absolutism in Depression-era Germany. I will concede that it reminded me of the history of the decline of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazism. Anytime the executive branch of a government can unilaterally override a national constitution it is, by definition, a dictatorship – any political scientist will tell you this.

      President Morsi’s sister just passed away due to cancer and PM Netanyahu had a personally-signed note of condolences delivered. This is a small but telling example of the respect that Morsi has acquired in the international community. Obama’s repeated consultations with Morsi during the recent Gaza crisis also show American respect for his influence in the region.

      An op-ed piece today in Israel’s liberal Haaretz periodical praising Netanyahu on his leadership and restraint during the latest Gaza incursion illustrates the value of Morsi in promoting peace in Gaza can have benefits for the current Israeli government.

      • “Don’t compare Morsi to Adolf Hitler”

        No one is comparing Morsi to Adolf Hitler. What is being compared is the similarity of the Enabling Act, which led to Hitler’s dictatorship, with Decree No. 6, which certainly has the potential for authoritarian rule at best, and dictatorship at worst, under Morsi.

  2. Of such moves are dictatorships born…the handwriting is on the wall… What the hell is wrong with all these politicians? Dictatorships ultimately fail.

    • Dictators may fail; but not necessarily dictatorships. One may easily succeed another, and often do.

      This should put paid the neocon romance (shared in many left-wing circles but long dead among those who knew better) with notions of “democracy” in Egypt. One shouldn’t generalize about the “Arab Spring”–different locales with different histories are still working their destinies out–but Morsi’s move augurs very poorly.

      But the Shah, Papa Assad, Saddam, Qadaffi and a host of lesser fry would have understood.

      • “One shouldn’t generalize about the “Arab Spring”–different locales with different histories are still working their destinies out–but Morsi’s move augurs very poorly.”

        Spot on, Richard. That’s why I never liked the term “Arab Spring” in the first place. It seemed naive to me to term it “Spring,” with the implicit assumption that “Spring” would lead inevitably to “Summer.” In my opinion, a better, more accurate term is “Arab Transition.”

        The Near Eastern/North African countries experiencing this “transition” have never experienced anything close to democracy. They do not possess those attributes–a solid middle class with a reasonable standard of living, a mature political philosophy, a mature economic system, religious pluralism–that together form the critical mass necessary for a true democratic transition.

        One hopes that the Egyptian populace can block Morsi and force a retraction of these decrees. If the decrees stand, I do not hold out much hope for Egypt moving forward. If Morsi succeeds in muzzling opposition, with the backing of his Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist allies, I fear he will implement a strongly Islamist authoritarian regime. In such a case, we (and many Egyptians) might look back on the Mubarak era with a degree of nostalgia. If one is to be ruled by an authoritarian regime, it is far better that it be secular than Islamist.

        • You don’t need that whole laundry list to have a democracy.

          First comes sovereignty. Then come the internal politics. The economics can come later.

          Dont’ write off Egypt. Notwithstanding its poverty, the country and its people are a lot more modern than most Westerners seem able to understand.

          Also bear in mind that the courts picked this fight with Morsi and his party, not the other way around.

        • Yes, it’s better to be ruled by a secular authoritarian than a theocrat. But there’s also big differences amongst secular authoritarians.
          Gamal Abdel Nasser was secular, modern, somewhat socialist, pan-Arab nationalist, “non-aligned”, and loved by millions of Egyptians.
          Better to be ruled by a Nasser than a Pinochet.

    • But they don’t really fail. The dictators and kleptocrats get not only very rich, they have a nice run causing pain and horror to a lot of other humans. there’s always a few of us in every population who are wired with the programming on how to accumulate and wield absolute power. Just like each of us generates some active cancer cells somewhere in our bodies, every day, and if we are lucky, our immune systems will catch and recycle them before they get a real foothold.

      Let us remember how so many of the kleptodictator class, including a whole lot of Nazis, and Bourbons, and guys like Batista, and geez, how many others, accumulate a lot of portable wealth and then split for Happy Trails Retirement Spas before the crowds get to them. And a lot of their “people” do pretty well off the scamming and stealing, too, and also seem pretty adept at stepping off the train before it crashes into the gorge…

    • So sad that everything gets reduced to little sound bites and talking points. “Sharia hitting the fan”? I guess that’s kind of cute… Any idea what “Sharia” is, other than a cute little catch phrase deployed like a stream of ink from a squid’s posterior to distinguish obviously good “US” from obviously evil THEM?

      I happen to like the Professor’s pointed paralleling of people who on the one hand are zombie-ing around in their consumptive People Of The Mall haze, unaware of the degree to which their “rights” and “freedom” are being “Matrix”ed away from them, comfortably swallowing comfortable assurances that there is no reason to be afraid, at least nothing to fear from The Government or the Powers That Be, (not waterboarding, or eavesdropping, or bases and stratagems being played all across the planet, or trillions of their wealth being stolen and transferred to Wallstreet and LockheedMartin and various “security contractors”) — as opposed to THEM– as long as you are not doing anything wrong, right?

      And on the other hand, people, our fellow humans, who are working in a very different kind of climate, still feeling the pain of despotism and kleptocracy and going through that confused horror of power-grabbing by the usual types that see their opportunities to advance themselves and their set in times of upset.

      (The cool part, though there is a finite temporal limit, is that Egypt will indeed be “moving forward” along the jagged track of its destiny, whether ruled by kleptocracy or governed by Solons.)

      All, of course, because we humans don’t have a clue how to go about regulating and governing ourselves, sustainably and decently, for the greater good (as opposed to pretending to do so, behind a convenient set of myths and deceptions, and depending on the vast inertia and high pain tolerance of the crowd to generate taxable wealth and provide labor and cannon fodder) except very locally, when we have to look each other in the eyes, and over pretty short bits of time.

      • True, indeed we are “moving forward” It looks like freedom is breaking out everywhere. Even the dog gets a chance to catch the bus and experiment with it. There will be disappointments, but the painful experiences are essential for us to learn. The brotherhood fighting for a government of controlling individuals instead of a government of freeing individuals and failing at this will eventually undermines also the western governments that are oppressing people in many subtle ways.

  3. The constituent assembly was reformed by the court. For the court to act against that body because support for it is eroding and it doesn’t like the constitution it is creating, would show that the court is acting with political motives. Egypt elected a president when there is no constitution or parliament. So, naturally you’re going to have Morsi, the military, and the courts all desperately trying to make the rules.

    • Yes, I think we should welcome the demonstrations as legitimate protest against this sort of executive abuse of power (although I’m not sure what other avenues Morsi had to try to avoid delegitimization of the constitution writing committee) but avoid cheerleading for Morsi’s fall and the government’s failure — as the American press notoriously did during the “Green Revolution” in Iran.

      There’s something immoral about sitting in the comfort of our homes, cheerleading for civil war in another country, particularly one that, wrt Iran, what would be lopsided and doomed and bloody.

      Hopefully, some form of reconciliation will emerge to allow Morsi to roll-back much of this … this has similarities to Iraq’s difficulties in forming a national government/writing a constitution/holding a meaningful election in the face of myriad special interests using their boycott power. It gonna take some time.

  4. It doesn’t take long, does it, for the west to claim that any new popular leader who speaks Arabic must be Hitler-like.

    It’s just an unending misrepresentation, from Nasser forwards.

    What most of these comments seems to miss is the simple fact that there is a dynamic, evolving and popular push for democracy in Egypt. It is both within the Brotherhood as well as outside it. It may not carry the day, or win every battle, but it is of historical importance and great vigour.

    Where are the required pro-democracy movements in the US?

  5. Is there anything to be made of the fact that Morsi had just finished meeting with Barack Obama? Did Obama give the go-ahead for the power grab?

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