To break the deadlock, Morsi wields a clumsy hammer

Issandr El Amrani writes: There is a legend about how Alexander the Great solved an intractable problem he came across during his conquests. An ox cart in the ancient kingdom of Phrygia (in today’s Anatolia) had been attached by a knot to a post by Zeus. The man who could untie the knot, an oracle had prophesied, would have the approval of the gods to rule. When Alexander arrived in Phrygia, like previous would-be conquerors, he struggled to untie it. His solution, ultimately, was to draw his sword and cut the rope.

This parable is alternatively interpreted as being about ingenuity and thinking outside the box, or as an argument that might makes right. This is also the debate now raging in Egypt after President Mohammed Morsi, in an extraordinary executive decree, took the right to rule without constraints.

Mr Morsi and his supporters – mostly Islamists – argue that the step was a necessary solution given an intractable problem: Egypt’s transition has languished far too long, hostage to politicking and the whims of an unreformed judiciary hostile to the new president.

The courts’ power to cancel the results of elections, like June’s disbanding of the lower house of parliament, or possibly dissolve the assembly now drafting a new constitution, was too disruptive to restoring normality and order in a country that sorely needs to move forward.

The presidential decree announced on Thursday evening also offered some welcome moves. The deadline for the writing of the constitution has been extended by two months, offering an opportunity for the third of the constituent assembly’s members who walked out last week to return and negotiate. Mr Morsi has also appointed a new public prosecutor, replacing an unpopular official he had tried to sack last month, and ordered retrials in cases of police violence in the 2011 uprising, including the case of his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.

The decree was preceded by cryptic leaks to the press that Mr Morsi would be taking bold measures. The Muslim Brotherhood dispatched its cadres to hold a demonstration at the Cairo High Court – a stand-in for the judiciary – and rumours spiralled as to what Mr Morsi might do. In the local and international press, praise was lavished on him for his handling of the Gaza crisis and his reconciliation with a US president who only two months ago was unwilling to describe the new Egypt as an ally.

Mr Morsi’s administration may have been in trouble over its handling of various issues, from the constitutional debate to transport disasters, but personally Mr Morsi was on top of the world. This, it was expected, would have been his chance to pivot from a foreign-policy success and break the deadlock in Egypt’s domestic politics.

Or so he thought. [Continue reading…]

Reuters adds: Egyptian share prices plunged on Sunday, with the main market index falling by nearly 10 percent in the first trading session since President Mohamed Mursi ignited a political crisis by expanding his powers.

The price falls were the biggest since March 2011, when the market reopened after the popular uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak, with the EGX30 index down 9.45 percent by 0945 GMT.

“We’re not the same Egypt. Investors know that Mursi’s decisions will not be accepted and that there will be clashes on the street,” said Osama Mourad of Arab Financial Brokerage.

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