Egypt’s crisis

Egypt’s rulers are acting more like the dictatorial regime they replaced than defenders of democracy


Last week, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi declared that that nation’s courts could not overturn any decrees or laws he has made since he took office, at least until a new constitution is in place. What at first appeared to be a naked grab for personal power now looks like a poorly planned attempt to finish the job of co-opting Egypt’s democratic revolution.

On Sunday, Egypt’s Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling that could disband the 100-member assembly that has been drafting a constitution. In recent months, Egyptian courts dissolved the newly elected Parliament and a previous constitutional assembly.

The Islamist-dominated constitutional assembly rushed to pre-empt the court Thursday with a vote to approve a new draft constitution. It was to be delivered today to Mr. Morsi, who could set a referendum that would occur as soon as 15 days from now.

Ousted Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak appointed many of the judges. They have gone on strike to protest what they call Mr. Morsi’s power grab. More than 20 liberal and Christian members of the constitutional assembly have quit, claiming that the proposed new constitution is too religiously conservative.

The battle pits Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, of which Mr. Morsi is a leading member, against the judiciary on one side and democratic secularists on the other side. Mr. Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, claims to be protecting democracy. Opponents say the president and his Muslim Brotherhood allies are consolidating power at the expense of liberty.

Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to Liberation Square, where the 2011 uprising that led to Mubarak’s ouster was centered. They have clashed with police and supporters of the government.

In a show of strength, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists have announced their own Liberation Square rally this weekend. Confrontations with protesters, several hundred of whom are camped out in the square that was the focal point of Egypt’s 2011 Arab Spring revolution, appear likely.

There is evidence that all sides in the struggle are more interested in power than democracy. The judiciary would be weakened in an Egypt dominated by religious conservatives. And the draft constitution liberals have rejected does limit the influence of Islamic law and protect the rights of women and minorities.

Mr. Morsi received well-deserved praise from Washington and around the world for his role in arranging a truce between Israel and Hamas this month, ending eight days of violence and staving off a threatened Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip. But he has squandered that political capital, perhaps because he’s still smarting from his failed attempt to recall the disbanded Parliament and to fire the nation’s chief prosecutor.

Mr. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have had several opportunities to demonstrate their commitment to Egypt’s fragile democracy. Instead, they chose not to be inclusive or to respond to judicial opposition.

They have acted more like the dictatorial regime they replaced than the defenders of democracy they claim to be. And they may have brought Egypt to the brink of a second, and potentially bloodier, revolution.