Sunday, November 25, 2012

Egypt's Islamist Coup

The Egyptian revolution took another bad turn Thursday, as President Mohamed Morsi gave himself dictatorial powers over the legislature and courts. The world has feared that the Muslim Brotherhood would favor one-man, one-vote, once, and the Morsi coup is an ominous sign.

"The people wanted me to be the guardian of these steps in this phase," Reuters quoted Mr. Morsi as saying on Friday. "I don't like and don't want—and there is no need—to use exceptional measures. But those who are trying to gnaw the bones of the nation" must be "held accountable."

Mr. Morsi says his diktat will merely last as long as it takes the country to adopt a new constitution, which is what authoritarians always say. They claim to be a necessary step on the way to democracy, but democracy never arrives. Mr. Morsi's rationalization is that he must have this power to "protect the revolution," as if the demonstrators who deposed Hosni Mubarak in 2011 merely wanted another Mubarak with a beard and prayer rug. Mr. Morsi is claiming more power than Mr. Mubarak ever had.

Egyptians took to the street on Friday in protest, sometimes violently, and nearly every other major political leader denounced the putsch. That includes Abdel Monheim Aboul Fotouh, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader and presidential candidate. The violence is regrettable, but the protests may be the only way Egyptians can prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from becoming their new dictators.

The Brotherhood doesn't control the military or Ministry of Interior, yet neither one is going to rush to defend a more liberal Egyptian state. The military's main goal is to protect its role in government and its economic interests, and the Brotherhood's draft constitution puts the military outside of civilian control.

As long as Mr. Morsi doesn't challenge those interests, the military and police may let him control the courts, the media and the legislature. This is a recipe for rule a la Pakistan, with an increasingly Islamist state but the military and intelligence services as an independent power. The immediate losers will be Egypt's liberals and the Western journalists who inhaled the vapors of Tahrir Square. But whatever Mr. Morsi intends, the Pakistan model is not a recipe for a more stable Egypt.

Mr. Morsi's coup is also awkward for the Obama Administration, which had been praising the Egyptian in media backgrounders for his role in brokering the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Mr. Morsi was hailed as a moderate statesman. Yet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had barely left Cairo before Mr. Morsi made his move. He may have figured that all the praise made it easier for him to grab more power.
It's awkward alright.

The administration basically installed the Muslim Brotherhood and now Morsi's making a bid for the region's pan-Islamist leader to rival even Iran's influence. You get what you bargain for, I guess. And boy, did Obama ever bargain for his Muslim Brothers!

RELATED: From David Goldman, "Obama Legitimizes Morsi’s Protection Racket."