Egypt has been rocked once again by a political crisis triggered by President Mohamed Morsi’s relentless efforts to secure dictatorial power. Hundreds of protesters from liberal and secular opposition groups demonstrated in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the birthplace of Egypt’s stunted “Arab Spring” revolt. One barometer of the coming test of strength between Morsi and the weak and splintered opposition will be whether the disappointed democrats can retain control over Tahrir Square in the face of police and Muslim Brotherhood countermoves.
Egypt’s judiciary also has pushed back against Morsi’s power grab. The Supreme Council of the Judiciary denounced Morsi’s unilateral assertion of power over the judiciary as “an unprecedented attack on judicial independence.” The Judges Club, an association of judges made up of many appointees by the Mubarak regime, called for a strike by courts across Egypt.
But the judges alone will not be enough to reverse Morsi’s power grab. The key vote will be wielded by the armed forces. Morsi appears confident that he can count on support from key military leaders, whom he hand-picked after purging the top ranks of Mubarak loyalists in August.
While the army’s ultimate verdict on Morsi’s power grab is not yet apparent, Egypt’s investors voted with their wallets and withdrew their money from Egypt’s stock market, which plunged almost 10 percent on Sunday. Even if Morsi does secure the backing of the army, his assertion of dictatorial powers will further undermine what little confidence remains in Egypt’s deteriorating economy.
Morsi is acting as if he expects the United States and others among Egypt’s creditors to turn a blind eye to his lunge for power as a sign of gratitude for his help in brokering an unstable ceasefire in Gaza. But the Obama Administration must not abandon America’s founding principles in supporting the rule of law, liberty, religious tolerance, and political freedom. It must push back against Morsi’s illegitimate assertion of unchecked power. This will encourage opposition leaders and perhaps even Egyptians who remain on the fence to vigorously reject Morsi’s aggressive power grab.
The bottom line is that Islamists have hijacked Egypt’s “Arab Spring” and are choking off any possibility of a Gaza “Arab Spring” by fomenting endless conflict with Israel.