Nov 25 (Reuters) - After helping end the fighting in Gaza,
impressing President Barack Obama and negotiating a $4.8 billion
loan from the International Monetary Fund, Egyptian President
Mohamed Mursi has fallen victim to what Bill Clinton calls
Mursi's hubristic post-Gaza power grab on Thursday was
politically tone deaf, strategic folly and classic over-reach.
It will deepen Egypt's political polarization, scare off
desperately needed foreign investment and squander Egypt's
rising credibility in the region and the world.
Television images of renewed clashes in Cairo, Alexandria,
Port Said and Suez will play into stereotypes that the Middle
East is not ready for democracy. They will bolster suspicions
inside and outside Egypt that the Muslim Brotherhood cannot be
I disagree with the skeptics and believe democracy can still
be established in Egypt. But Mursi's moves won't help Egypt make
the difficult transition.
"There was a disease but this is not the remedy," Hassan
Nafaa, a liberal political science professor and activist at
Cairo University, told Reuters Friday. "We are going towards
more polarization between the Islamist front on one hand and all
the others on the other. This is a dangerous situation."
An alarming dynamic is taking hold in Egypt. Power-grabs,
brinksmanship and walk-outs are becoming the norm, as a bitter
struggle plays out among newly empowered Islamists, vestiges of
the Mubarak regime and the country's deeply divided liberals.
Political paralysis is the result - with rule by presidential
decree, overreach by the judiciary and a deadlocked
constitutional assembly. As polarization deepens, desperately
needed economic, political and judicial reforms stall.
Friday's street protests were relatively small compared to
the massive Arab spring demonstrations.. But the trend is in the
"President Morsi has used the nearly absolute authority he
assumed last August," Nathan Brown warned in an excellent
analysis for The Arabist, "to try to put that absolute authority
beyond reach, at least on a temporary basis. He may very well
In a surprising triumph in August, Mursi abruptly ended the
Egyptian military's post-Mubarak rule of the country. After
apparently gaining the support of younger military officers,
Mursi forced older, pro-Mubarak officers, led by Field Marshall
Muhamad Hussein Tantawi, into retirement. Mursi then seized
In one positive sign, Mursi used his new authority
sparingly. Critics who feared an Islamist crackdown were proven
wrong. His boldest move was a failed October attempt to remove
the country's unpopular prosecutor general, a Mubarak holdover
widely criticized for mounting lenient prosecutions of Mubarak
and other former officials. When the prosecutor, Abdel Meguid
Mahmoud, refused to obey Mursi's order to resign, the new
president quickly backed down.
That restraint vanished on Thursday. Mursi removed the
unpopular prosecutor, opened the doors for a re-trial of Mubarak
and other officials and granted himself and the country's
constitutional assembly immunity from rulings by the country'
pro-Mubarak judiciary. Critics feared pro-Mubarak judges would
dissolve the constitutional assembly, just as they had dissolved
the country's first democratically elected parliament before
Mursi was elected president in June.
In a speech outside the presidential palace on Friday, Mursi
argued that he had seized sweeping powers to preserve the
transition to democracy. He promised that once full
constitutional democracy was established, he would relinquish
"I am for all Egyptians," Mursi said, adding that he was
working for social and economic stability and the rotation of
power. "I will not be biased against any son of Egypt."
Unfortunately, we've seen this script before. It almost
always turns out badly. A destructive dynamic is taking hold in
Egypt. The poisonous distrust and conspiracy theories that have
handicapped the country's transition to democracy are deepening.
On Friday, a senior Brotherhood official scoffed at liberal
opposition leader Muhammed ElBaradei's calls for protests.
"We're not scared of ElBaradei," the official told
journalist Lauren E. Bohn, "he has no real support on street,
ElBaradei and members of country's liberal opposition have
their flaws. They are deeply divided, failed to build strong
political organizations and too quickly engaged in boycotts and
Only Egyptians can change Egypt's political culture. The
international community, though, can and should clearly signal
its support for constitutional democracy and the rule-of law in
Egypt. The State Department issued a statement Friday calling on
all sides to peacefully resolve their differences. But the
quicker way to create pressure is through the IMF.
On Tuesday, officials from Egypt and the IMF announced a
tentative agreement to issue a $4.8 billion IMF loan to the
country's cash-strapped government. Egyptian officials agreed to
enact spending and tax reforms designed to reduce the country's
deficit, attract foreign investment and restore the economic
growth that vanished after Mubarak's fall.
IMF officials said the loan was part of a whopping $14.5
billion funding package planned for Egypt. They did not name the
donors but they are believed to include the Unites States, the
European Union, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Final approval of the
$4.8 billion IMF agreement lies with the group's board, due to
meet on Dec. 19.
Washington, Brussels and the IMF should set benchmarks for
the disbursement of the aid, pegged to democratic reform being
implemented in Egypt. Fears of instability in Egypt or Gaza
should not prompt the international community to turn a blind
eye to Mursi's power-grab. All Egypt's key stakeholders -
whether Islamists or secular liberals - should be shown that
they will pay a price for anti-democratic excess.
We've funneled billions to Egyptian dictators before. The
results were grim: poverty, economic stagnation and deep
resentment of the United States. If Mursi - or any Egyptian
leader - flouts democracy, they should not receive billions in
American and international aid.
If Egyptians squander their chance for democracy, it's their
choice. Shame one us, though, if we lose our nerve and make the
strongman mistake twice.