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23 November 2012
Mohamed Morsi, the Islamist President of Eypt, yesterday assumed absolute power. For the time being, no individual or institution can challenge his decrees.
Under the new dispensation, the president is “authorized to take any measures he sees fit in order to preserve the revolution, to preserve national unity or to safeguard national security.”
The decision has sparked a storm of opposition.
Secular opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei twitted: “Morsi today usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh. A major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences.”
The vice-president of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Tahani al-Gebali, told the Spanish news agency Efe that Mr Morsi was now an “illegitimate president”.
Newspaper editor Abdel-Halim Qandil told al-Jazeera TV: “Morsi was elected a president. Now he is behaving like a king.”
Crowds were gathering today 23 November 2012 in Tahrir Square, Cairo, the cradle of Egypt’s Arab Spring, to protest Morsi’s assumption of dictatorial power.
At first sight Morsi’s action seems indefensible.
It can certainly not be regarded as democratic.
However, first sight is not always right.
The chief opposition to the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt is currently coming from the judiciary, which is stuffed to the gills with placemen appointed under the ancien régime of the deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak.
These apparatchiks of Mubarak have decreed the dissolution of the lower house of the Egyptian parliament, where Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood had a majority of the seats.
They have exonerated Mubarak security officials who ordered the killing of those protesting against the régime.
Using his new powers, Morsi has sacked the chief prosecutor, Mubarak protégé Abdel Maguid Mahmoud, and has ordered a retrial of security officials exonerated by judges still loyal to Mubarak. He has also ordered a retrial of Mubarak himself.
One scenario is that Morsi assumed absolute power at this juncture to forestall any move by the Mubarak-era judiciary – which had already dissolved the lower house of parliament – to dissolve the upper house (another bastion of Morsi’s supporters) as well and even to delegitimize the constituent assembly, which is currently at work drafting a new constitution. The constituent assembly is another Muslim Brotherhood stronghold.
Spokesmen for the president have promised that the president’s new powers will only be in force till the new constitution is ratified and a new parliament is elected.
Morsi has asked the constituent assembly to wrap up its work in two months. His supporters say he is anxious to get the new constitution up and running as soon as possible.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s website said the assumption of the new wide-ranging powers by the president were necessary to “protect the revolution and achieve justice”. It claimed that the move was forced on Morsi as a result of the corrupt system inherited from Mubarak.
Morsi’s assumption of what are undoubtedly dictatorial powers is certainly surprising, given that, up to now, he has acted with extreme caution in exercising the presidency, to which he was elected in June 2012.
For the time being, Antigone1984 gives Morsi the benefit of the doubt.
There is undoubtedly a constitutional vacuum in Egypt at the moment. If the vacuum had not been filled by the Muslim Brotherhood – which, though it was not in the van of the revolution, nonetheless broadly supported it – a counter-revolution by elements of the ancien regime, including sections of the police and the army, was not inconceivable.
In any revolution, diehard defence of the status quo will normally come from the judiciary. This was conspicuously the case in Egypt. That is why Morsi had to act to neutralise it.
Let us not forget the words of Mao Zedong, which we have quoted previously:
革命不是請客吃飯, 不是做文章, 不是繪畫繡花,不能那樣雅致, 那樣從容不迫, 文質彬彬, 那樣溫良恭儉讓。革命是暴動, 是一個階級推翻一個階級的暴烈的行動。
A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.
“Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan” (March 1927), Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong), Vol. I, p. 28.
If Morsi gives up his new powers in a few months, once the new Egyptian constitution is in force, then the steps he has now taken may be seen as a necessary, if unorthodox, measure to preserve the gains of the revolution. If he retains absolute power sine die, then his opponents will be right: he will have become another Mubarak.
We shall just have to wait and see.
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
5.Ladder (21 June 2012)
6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.