That didn't take long did it? Mohammed Morsi, the first democratically elected leader of Egypt in its roughly 5,200 year history took office in June of this year. This month he has begun acting suspiciously like his predecessor, the deposed and imprisoned Hosni Mubarak. Morsi, who has been a member of the Muslim Brotherhood since 1977, moved quickly after his election to solidify his position with the Egyptian army by replacing a number of high ranking officers with people he could trust. By last week he must have decided he was in solid enough with them that he could begin the hallowed process of becoming "president for life." He issued edicts which in effect told the nation's judicial system that they couldn't rescind, or challenge anything he said or did until a new constitution was approved by a parliament his party controls. Think Dick Nixon's most intense wet dream coming true.
This really isn't something new in Egypt. In fact it is a tradition of sorts dating back to the Pharaohs. Before Morsi there was Mubarak who is currently, if he's still alive, doing life in prison for his part in the killing of protesters prior to his ouster. Before Mubarak there was Sadat. He was assassinated after an eleven year reign by fundamentalist army officers. Prior to Sadat there was Gamal Abdel Nasser, a former Colonel in the army who, with Muhammad Naguib, led the overthrow of King Farouk I in 1952. Naguib actually served as Egypt's first president for a while, before Nasser grabbed power and chucked him into indefinite house arrest. Farouk himself was more concerned with high end European shopping sprees and dining on raw oysters than he was with running the place, so no one was sorry to see him go off into exile. Then there were the British. They actually controlled the country from 1879 through the second word war, although they let Farouk and others of the Alawiyya Dynasty act like they were the head of state. It was sort of like the Romans did with Herod back in the day.
The problem Morsi has is that until Mubarak's last stand none of the other guys who were in charge had to worry about the people of Egypt. No, their main concern was the support of the Egyptian military. As long as the guys in the tanks were in your pocket it didn't matter what the average Joe in the market thought of you. That appears to have changed and changed dramatically. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets when they'd finally had their fill of Mubarak. He responded brutally and was eventually run out on a rail. Yesterday a report by the AP says close to 200,000 people filled Tahrir Square in Cairo and they were not happy campers. The focus of their anger was their new president and his sudden drift toward another autocracy.
The AP story, written by Maggie Michael and Sarah El Deeb, says the protests weren't confined to just Cairo. That in fact some Morsi opponents mounted attacks on several offices of the Muslim Brotherhood across the country, setting fire to at least one. The report also states that at least 100 people were injured in what amounted to a massive gang fight between protesters and Brotherhood members in the city of Mahalla el-Kobra.
So it would seem Morsi is at a crossroads. He can back off his Tsar like proclamations and lose face with his base. He can strike some sort of compromise with the judiciary that will mollify the masses, although what that could be remains unseen. Or, he can go all Mubarak by calling out the troops and turning them loose on the crowds.
Morsi has a Ph.D. in engineering from the University of Southern California and was a professor before entering the frenzied world of Egyptian politics. He also spent seven months in the slammer because Mubarak didn't like his attitude and what he was saying. Presumably he understands that a show of deadly force would only push Egypt to the brink of complete anarchy. Of course you never know what wildly elegant dreams are swirling in his head right now. Obviously he believes he has all the answers and everyone else in the country can't do anything but foul them up.
It certainly appears he badly underestimated the Egyptian populace's desire for real democracy. The people in the streets don't want just a name change at the top, they want a fundamental change in the way the system works. They thought they had it when they dumped Mubarak and elected Morsi. Now he is starting to look like every other guy they've had to deal with. The difference, at this point anyway, is that it seems they aren't going to put up with that sort of political buggery any longer.
Perhaps a call to Hugo Chavez over in Venezuela is in order. He probably has some helpful tips on how to pull this sort of thing off and I'm sure he'd be open to helping out a rookie. After all solidarity must be maintained among those in charge.
Democracy is a pesky thing, especially when you're the only one who knows what is right and good. God only knows what sort of cracked ideas the Hoi Polloi might have when it comes to The Grand Plan.
The AP says more demonstrations are in the works for Friday. Look for this to get ugly in the extreme. Right now the only real question is the size of the body count.