Power grab by Egypt’s leader threatens future of the nation

2That question, posed several months ago by a prominent rights activist and best-selling novelist in Egypt, has turned out to be prescient.

President Mohammed Morsi’s assertion this week of near absolute powers has triggered massive public protests that bring to mind the demonstrations leading up to the resignation of long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Activist and novelist Alaa al-Aswani’s warning about Morsi’s tendencies was triggered by the new president’s move against the military by forcing the retirement of the top brass, including the defense minister and chief of staff. He installed an ally as head of the defense department.

Morsi’s leadership in the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic fundamentalist group, has been the cause of deep concern on the part of secular Egyptians who participated in the popular uprising against Mubarak and expressed their displeasure at the military’s power grab shortly after Morsi won a run-off election.

Eight hundred Egyptians died at the hands of government security forces, but in the end Mubarak was no match for the populace’s yearning to be free. That is why Morsi’s monopoly of power, his campaign against his rivals and his push for a new, Islamist constitution have triggered such an angry response.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have taken to Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the democracy movement, demanding that the president leave office.

Edicts issued by him have neutralized the judiciary, the last branch of government he does not control.

There is buyer’s remorse. Egyptians who participated in the first truly free elections for president and parliament believed they were witnessing a new era in the history of that ancient land.

But now, with President Morsi and his Islamic fundamentalist allies in and out of government moving toward tyrannical rule, there is the real possibility of a bloody revolution that would make the ouster of Mubarak seem like a stroll in the park.

“The people want to bring down the regime,” and “erhal, erhal” — Arabic for “leave, leave” — have become the cries of a citizenry determined to prevent Egypt from becoming an Islamic state governed by Sharia law.

There are demonstrations in several cities, with the Brotherhood being targeted by protesters who are intent on delivering a clear message to the government.

Judicial review

One of Morsi’s edicts is designed to block the constitutional court from reviewing any of his decisions. In particular, the president wants to make sure that the assembly that has written the country’s new constitution is not hampered in its effort.

The assembly is dominated by Brotherhood and Islamist allies, while the court is made up of Mubarak appointees. The assembly has fast-tracked the constitution, which has Sharia law as its foundation, and on Thursday night approved the provisions. Many members of the council who are opposed to the Islamic fundamentalist bent of the document refused to participate in the vote.

On Sunday, the constitutional court is expected to rule on whether to dissolve the assembly — even though Morsi has said it has no such authority.

If it does rule, the fallout would spill onto the streets.

As we noted in an editorial this summer, the political situation in Egypt was tenuous at best. Today, it’s a ticking time bomb.

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