Mass Protests Against Morsi

President Mohamed MursiCairo’s Tahrir Square was awash with humanity on Tuesday, as tens of thousands of Egyptians flooded the streets in protest against President Mohamed Mursi’s decision to confer upon his presidency sweeping powers to rule by decree without challenge by any other national body.

Morsi may well have sound reason to have taken that bold step. In fact, he claims to have done so in order to protect the popular revolution that swept aside the Hosni Mubarak regime. There is good cause to fear that Egypt’s courts may be seeking to disband the assembly that is drafting a new constitution for the country. If this happens it will mark the second time that the Egyptian courts have attempted to bring a halt to the country’s progress towards a new national mandate.

The Egyptian president fears that should the courts succeed in suspending the work of the constitutional assembly, a serious blow would be dealt to Egypt’s transition to a full-blown democratic system of government. The nation might well sink into a state of paralysis as officials refrain from making definitive moves in the absence of elections to choose a new parliament.

The result of such political and administrative stagnation might well be to plunge the country into mass dislocations and a complete loss of national cohesion.

Egypt’s problem is that most of the judges in the court system are holdovers from the Mubarak period, having received their appointments during that era. Their loyalties, therefore, tend to be with the interests of the military-based power structure that stood behind Hosni Mubarak – and still exists today, only hovering in the wings awaiting the opportunity to retake the reins of power.

Even though acting with the best of intentions, President Morsi has been less than successful in garnering support for his cause. He has been at great pains to explain that his move is only temporary and limited, in order to maintain progress towards constitutional reform and a new government; but his opponents have refused to accept his proffered justifications.

Now, many thousands of angry protestors have besieged Tahrir Square, accusing Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, his power base, of being the real traitors to the revolution.

The demonstrators are demanding that the president withdraw the measure entirely and seek some other more palatable means of keeping the courts in check. Said one protestor: “We don’t want a dictatorship again … The Mubarak regime was a dictatorship … We need a revolution to have justice and peace.”

Much of the Egyptian people’s rejection of what they saw as a Morsi power-grab is founded in their deep and abiding mistrust of the Muslim Brotherhood, a powerful fundamentalist organization that many Egyptians fear would wish to establish an Islamic Republic, espousing Sharia law, in predominantly secular Egypt. As a result, all other segments of the Egyptian opposition spectrum have united in massive protests intended to fire a shot across the bow of Morsi and the Brotherhood, in order to head off any dictatorial intentions at the start.

It remains to be seen what kind of compromise arrangement Morsi can cobble together to keep the stuttering Egyptian revolution on track.

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