At best, Egypt’s President Mohammad Mursi has shown disastrous political naivety by granting himself exceptional powers in order to stop the courts from disbanding Egypt’s constitutional assembly for a second time, triggering widespread protests. At worst, the new Egyptian president has just confirmed widespread suspicion that he is trying to entrench himself in power for decades.
Mursi has missed an important opportunity to show himself as a genuine leader for all Egyptians, rather than seeking narrow political advantage. It would have been better if Egypt’s first popularly elected president had attracted widespread support for his move by consulting the leaders of the opposition parties and building a consensus on how to safeguard the writing of a new constitution. Many democratic politicians would normally have no wish to support the judiciary since most of the judges who are attacking the constituent assembly were appointed during former president Hosni Mubarak’s time in office.
However, Mursi failed to build that vital consensus. Instead, he went ahead on his own and gave himself sweeping powers, arousing the suspicion of every democratic person in Egypt. So Egypt now sees the bizarre alliance of secularists, liberals and Christians rushing to defend judges who were appointed by the Mubarak regime. Mursi has totally failed to win the popular argument by pointing out that his decree includes a time limit on his new powers and he is in danger of facing a major upheaval that could seriously derail Egypt’s perilous transition to democracy, by further delaying both the new constitution and the new parliamentary elections.
Mursi needs to build a new relationship with all of Egypt’s party leaders and remember that they share a common enemy in the military establishment, which is the legacy of the former president’s regime. If he fails to open up to other leaders and if he continues with his unilateral approach to power and law, he will cause a substantial wave of opposition that could seriously damage his case, offering the military or extremist parties an opening to grab short-term advantage.