WSJ: EGYPT’S DESCENT
The bad news continues in Egypt, with the glorious revolution of 2011 evolving into a not-so-glorious present of violent political clashes and a slide toward Islamic authoritarianism. Over the weekend President Mohammed Morsi scrapped his recent dictatorial decree, but he is still insisting on a rushed December 15 national referendum on a new constitution.
A broad opposition of secularists, liberals, women and Christians wants to reopen talks on the constitution, and well they should. The document was rushed through an Islamist-dominated assembly, in an all-night session a week after Mr. Morsi issued his November 22 decree that put him above judicial review. Even if the constitution passes on December 15, half of Egypt’s divided society will consider the vote illegitimate—a recipe for further unrest or for Egypt’s best and brightest to flee the country.
The draft constitution is also flawed. Protections for religious minorities, the press and women are weaker than in the 1971 constitution. It doesn’t impose Islamic law, but vague religious-laden references to “preserving the true nature of the Egyptian family” and the state’s duty to “protect ethics and morals and public order” open the door to Islamist interpretations down the road.
Checks on the executive are also insufficient, while the military gets a special status—e.g., parliament has no oversight of its budget—that will make it even more insulated from civilian control. The latter is part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy of buying off the military so the officer corps won’t intervene again in politics. But the result may be a state that is less an Islamist-tinged democracy a la Turkey and more a military-Islamist condominium akin to unstable Pakistan.
As the Muslim Brotherhood’s choice, Mr. Morsi won a fair election in June, but his behavior suggests that he’s intent on cementing Brotherhood power in the winner-take-all Egyptian tradition. The secretive Islamist group belatedly joined demonstrations against Hosni Mubarak in 2011. It then pledged to contest a limited number of seats in parliament and not put up a presidential candidate.
These and other promises were quickly broken. Mr. Morsi’s power grab last month was intended to prevent the courts from disbanding the assembly called to write the constitution. The judges in early June had killed the freely-elected parliament, but one bad decree does not deserve another. The danger is that the Brotherhood will take Egypt back to Mubarak-era authoritarianism, but this time with an Islamist vanguard that will slowly crush the rights of women, non-Muslims, the media and political opposition.
Little of this bodes well for U.S. interests. The Obama Administration has been restrained in its criticism, grateful that Mr. Morsi helped mediate a cease-fire to last month’s Gaza conflict. Mr. Morsi needs the roughly $2 billion in annual U.S. aid as well as IMF loans to keep the economy from deteriorating further. President Obama called Mr. Morsi last week, but his influence is undetectable.
The Egyptian people aren’t as politically cowed as they long were, so perhaps they will be able to defeat the constitution and forge a better political consensus. But the present trend is toward Mubarak with a beard.
A version of this article appeared December 10, 2012, on page A20 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Egypt’s Descent.
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