Editorial: Egypt's President has taken a big step back

With his decree, Mr Morsi has reversed many gains of the 2011 uprising

Share
Related Topics

President Mohamed Morsi must have set some kind of record for the speed of his descent from hero to villain. Not 48 hours ago, Egypt's President was fielding tributes from all over the world for his adroit and responsible diplomacy. He was credited with brokering the truce that had brought an end to a week of escalating violence between Israel and Gaza. Extravagant hopes were voiced that he had paved the way for a new age of moderating Egyptian influence in the region.

Within hours, all those hopes were dashed – and not because the truce had failed. For all its fragility, it was holding, to the relief of those on both sides of the Israel-Gaza border. No, the reason why such widespread optimism had turned so quickly to indignation in Egypt and something akin to despair abroad was entirely of Mr Morsi's own making.

In what looked like a profoundly misguided attempt to capitalise on his international acclaim at home, the Egyptian President passed a decree in which he gave himself extensive new powers. They include the stipulation that presidential decisions cannot be revoked by anyone, including a judge. The decree also appears to make possible new trials of those already convicted of killings during the 2011 uprising. Those liable to face new court proceedings could include the overthrown President, Hosni Mubarak.

It is hardly necessary to count the ways in which Mr Morsi's move is undesirable and plain wrong. The head of Egypt's lawyers' syndicate stood alongside leading opposition figures to denounce the presidential decree as bringing about "the total execution of the independence of the judiciary". In a colourful phrase, Mohamed ElBaradei accused Mr Morsi of appointing himself Egypt's "new pharaoh". Other critics called the decree "a coup against legitimacy". It is difficult to find fault with any of these descriptions.

By yesterday afternoon, protesters were back on the streets of Cairo. Offices of the Muslim Brotherhood were ablaze in the restless cities of the Nile delta. The favoured slogan was "Morsi is Mubarak", which summed up not only the repressive nature of the President's decree, but the very real dangers it represents, too. If Mr Morsi believed he was establishing a streamlined system of rule with a view to accelerating his country's transition to a modern, post-Mubarak, era, as some of his statements seemed to suggest, he is grievously mistaken.

In the benevolent spotlight Mr Morsi enjoyed following the announcement of the Gaza truce, it was possible to glimpse a new Egypt. An Egypt in which entrenched fears about the nature and intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood were shown to be unfounded. An Egypt able to harness a distinguished tradition of scholarship and diplomacy to build its future. An Egypt ready and able to play a positive and calming role in an unstable region. An Egypt that other powers, starting with the United States, would treat as a partner, with respect. An Egypt whose President had an electoral mandate and whose elected legislature was in the early stages of drafting a constitution. All these changes were seen – inside and outside Egypt – as the hugely positive fruits of the 2011 uprising.

With the presidential decree, much, if not all, of that has been overturned. Any attempt to retry those already convicted turns back the clock needlessly. Television footage of the former President being wheeled into court on a hospital bed do not need to be revisited. Latent suspicion of the Muslim Brotherhood and its intentions will resurface. Until yesterday, the signals from Egypt were mixed, but generally more positive than negative. Now, the balance is decisively reversed. If he wants the new Egypt to flourish, Mr Morsi must reconsider his decree.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before