Egypt’s fragile young democracy seems on a knife’s edge after President Mohamed Morsi decreed that decisions he makes until a parliament is instituted are not subject to judicial review.
Morsi’s camp insists this measure is necessary to protect the democratically chosen assembly working to agree on and draft a constitution, which faces opposition from judges put in place by deposed leader Hosni Mubarak. Critics have called the move “fascist and despotic,” and a first step toward realizing an Islamic autocracy. There is deep mistrust among the groups parties, with conflicting signals flying in all directions and everyone extremely sensitive to anything that has the markings of a power grab. Protests have once again erupted in Cairo.
I wrote in August about how Morsi taking over the military and ousting Mubarak-era generals was a savvy and positive move toward starting anew with democracy. But has he abused his power by putting himself above the law? Or is he simply taking needed precautions to get the constitution passed? It is not uncommon in new democracies for certain rights to be restricted and the government to take above-normal powers to stabilize political environment.
I think it is too early to tell at this point the impact Morsi’s decree will have. Obviously the constitutional assembly must be able to circumvent any legal roadblocks from Mubarak loyalists. But putting the president above the law seems like a dangerous move that could provide precedent for Egypt to backslide toward dictatorship.
Morsi’s use of the decree should, and I’m sure will, be monitored closely. The Egyptian people have put their trust in him to lead them to democracy. Now is the critical time for Morsi to prove that he is committed to this goal.