The grumbling started in earnest late last year, when Mohammed Morse, after brokering a Gaza peace deal, followed that diplomatic coup by granting himself sweeping new powers to oversee Egypt’s political transition. As the protesters again packed Tahrir Square to rail against Morsi’s decree, there was an underlying refrain of “meet the new boss … same as the old boss …”
Maybe that was to be expected. President Hosni Mubarak stepped down after more than two weeks of escalating protests by a populace discontented with a secular dictatorship that had been in place for nearly 60 years — 30 of which Mubarak presided over personally. When Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood stepped into the void, there were concerns on just how painless and simple the transition to a more democratic form of government would be — concerns that were briefly hushed after Morsi won plaudits from the West for handling the delicate cease-fire agreement between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas government.
However, Morsi’s bid to expand his authority led to more unrest, culminating in his fleeing his own stronghold. Though he later walked back that decree, he pushed ahead with a referendum on a new constitution, giving his orders behind a palace ringed with armed guards, barbed wire and tanks. The bloom of the new government was very likely off the rose, with some wondering if one dictator had simply been exchanged for another.
Egypt is now in the grip of more violence and bloodshed. On the second anniversary of the protests that would topple the Mubarak regime, demonstrators called for Morsi to step down. The next day proved even more deadly, when dozens were killed during protests over a verdict sentencing 21 people to death over a soccer stadium disaster that took place in February 2012. Thousands turned out for the funerals of those killed in Saturday’s riots, and the call for Morsi’s ouster grew louder. He now stands accused of betraying the “democratic goals of the revolution.”
In declaring a state of emergency for three Egyptian provinces hit hardest by the violence, Morsi used a tactic some Egyptians might have found uncomfortably familiar, as it was one liberally used by the former regime to get a handle on discontent and muffle the populace. Indeed, in a televised address to the Egyptian people to announce a curfew, he was “angry and almost screaming,” and warned he would not hesitate to take even more action to stem this new eruption of violence. However, he attempted to reassure Egyptians that his latest moves would not take the country back into authoritarianism.
It’s becoming increasingly unlikely that such assurances will be believed. Protesters pack the streets in defiance of Morsi and his curfew, and one gets the sense of a regime growingly aware of a loss of control. If Morsi does make good on his threat to “take more action,” and that action results in more death, his regime may not last until the parliamentary elections set for the spring.
Morsi could be said to have squandered all the good will he gained in the Gaza situation not by attempting to expand his presidential authority, but by choosing to abandon his palace and attack his fellow citizens when they raised an outcry. The economic reforms he promised have not materialized, and his opponents are vocally unimpressed with what Morsi and his government have accomplished thus far.
In this latest crisis, Morsi has extended an olive branch of sorts to his critics. He has invited Nobel Laureate Mohammed ElBaradei — one of the main voices of opposition — as well as other opposition leaders to participate in a “dialogue” on solving the problems that have plunged Egypt into chaos. The invite has been rejected — ElBaradei called it “without form and content”, and said Morsi will have to admit to and answer for his part in all the bloodshed.
That’s been said before, as well — by those who opposed Hosni Mubarak. And everyone knows how that was eventually resolved.