Saturday, November 24, 2012

Short: Morsi's Power Grab

Egyptian President Morsi's recent power grab has been all over the news. To the surprise of some (but not others), Egyptians are protesting fairly vigorously against the power grab and have already clashed with authorities (though the crack-down in the anti-Mubarak revolution has not yet been seen). The opposition is calling Morsi a dictator, and the Army has been surprisingly quiet.

This is Morsi's second such move, this time taking power from the courts--last time, it was from the once-supreme military. I want to just explore a few questions on the grab:

Quick detail--what powers were taken?
Morsi took for himself the power to order (re-)trials of the ex-Mubarak regime, and forced out the country's lead prosecutor, who he thinks failed to properly prosecute. 

More importantly, Morsi declared that he had all powers necessary to protect the revolution, and that Presidential decrees would be immune from challenge by the courts or parliament. Obstensibly these powers are to make sure that the struggling constituent assembly (building the constitution) is able to finish its job, and that the powers would be temporary.

Why the grab?
When Morsi took power, there were four major factions majorly split in power:
1) Muslim Brotherhood, which had won parliamentary elections (his party)
2) Liberal parties, deeply divided and prone to walk-outs
3) The Army, which had power after Mubarak's fall
4) The Judiciary, the last vestige of actual Mubarak loyalists

The Liberal parties are too weak to be a major issue for Morsi, but the Army and Judiciary would prove an eternal foil to Morsi's agenda if it differed from their interests. Morsi--in Bismarckian style--managed to replace the old Army leadership with supporters of the new regime, and they bowed aside as he took most of their political power away. This left the Judiciary.

The prosecution of the Mubarak regime is a massive symbolic issue that likely represents the "end" of the transition out of the Mubarak era. The Judiciary had mostly let the Mubarak regime go, and to Morsi, this was a sign of an arbitrary loyalty to the old regime that could prove fairly dangerous. Morsi, unable to simply replace the judges, made a move to declare power for himself in order to take this third group out of his way.

If this grab proves successful, there will be no major political players in Egypt to stand in Morsi's way, and we'll be able to see him begin to push his own agenda--whatever that is.

How is this like/unlike Mubarak's authoritarian regime?
The biggest difference here is that Morsi actually holds real power in his hands, rather than simply being a puppet of the Army. So those that think Morsi is a copy of Mubarak are likely over-estimating Mubarak's personal powers. But Morsi, lacking the full backing of the Army that Mubarak had (as an Army "puppet") may be more vulnerable, as well. The Army may currently support him, but could act if he starts acting out of line. Morsi risks having "over-reached," and if the Army sees itself as the steward of Egypt's democratic transition, it may consider unseating Morsi and "starting over," though this has its own dangerous consequences.

What does the future hold?
In this case, there is little that can be done without a major showdown. Either the political rustlings will quell into simmering and grumbling, or else the Army, courts, or people will make enough of an opposition that Morsi will likely back down.

Morsi is new to power and may risk being reckless out of a sense of impatience for political change. This seeming recklessness may pay off for his regime--if his opposition remains in disarrary, then his new powers may simply become the status quo. 

For the Egyptian people, they may inherit an "elected dictator" kind of democracy, in which the individual they elect to the Presidency is the only real political authority in the nation. This would make presidential elections into high-stakes showdowns. This, of course, assumes that Morsi is more interested in the democratic process than his own power--if not, he'll use his newfound powers to limit opposition capacity to run against him, and he'll just become the next Middle Eastern autocrat.
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