Fall from grace was swift after brokering ceasefire


ANALYSIS: Opponents accuse President Morsi of hijacking Egypt’s nascent democracy

Egyptians calling for the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi are massing and camping out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, birthplace of the region-shaking uprising that toppled 40-year president Hosni Mubarak and launched the Arab Spring.

Revolutionaries have also taken to the streets of Alexandria, Suez and Port Said chanting: “The people want the end of the regime.” Morsi, the country’s first freely elected president, was inaugurated only five months ago.

The fractious and factional Arab nationalist, secular, liberal and leftist revolutionaries who mounted the 2011 uprising have proclaimed a National Salvation Front headed by Nobel laureate Muhammad El-Baradei and two former populist presidential candidates, Hamdeen Sabahi and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh.

Morsi’s fall from grace was swift. Last Wednesday he was acclaimed by them as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement to which he belongs, for brokering a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. He also reasserted Egypt’s regional leadership by compelling reluctant Arabs to send foreign ministers to Gaza to proclaim solidarity as Israeli bombs fell on the narrow coastal strip.

He has been reviled for using this triumph to claim sweeping powers to “protect the revolution”, fire the public prosecutor and declare himself immune to judicial review until a new constitution is ratified. Since the draft is in hot dispute, this could take many months.

The Supreme Judicial Council, composed of judges appointed during the Mubarak era, has condemned his decree as “an unprecedented assault” on the separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary.

Opponents accuse Morsi, the Brotherhood and the ultra-fundamentalist Salafis of hijacking the revolution by using elections to assert control of parliament and the presidency and dominating the commission drafting the constitution. Liberal members of the commission have pulled out, protesting provisions incorporating Muslim Sharia as the law of the land.

Morsi’s decree is meant to prevent the judiciary from dissolving the commission and the upper house, where fundamentalists also have a majority, as the courts dismissed the lower house.

His opponents fear he will overthrow the judiciary by decree in the same way he mounted a coup against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which had assumed many of Mubarak’s powers.

Since the Brotherhood is Egypt’s best organised and most influential political force, revolutionaries feared it would snatch power once Mubarak had gone. The Brotherhood attempted to reassure them by pledging it would not stand for more than one-third of the seats in the lower house, field a presidential candidate or seek to dominate the drafting of the new constitution.

It reneged on all three promises. Consequently, revolutionaries and many other Egyptians deeply distrust the movement and its man in the presidential palace.