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Has Egypt’s Morsi gone too far?

Has Egypt's Morsi gone too far?

Latest round of protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Nov. 23, 2012. Many in Egypt are outraged by President Mohamed Morsi’s decree that presidential decisions will not be subject to judicial oversight until the constitution is approved. Photo credit: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

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.



Scott Bleiweis

Scott Bleiweis writes on international relations topics for FPA. He has a M.A. in democracy studies and conflict resolution from the University of Denver, and a B.A. in Politics/International Studies from Brandeis University. Scott was formerly a Fulbright education scholar in Bulgaria (views in this blog are his own, and do not represent those of the Fulbright organization or U.S. government).

Scott supports Winston Churchill's characterization of the complex form of government known as democracy: “Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”