The Economist: Bareley a week ago Muhammad Morsi, Egypt’s president, was basking in praise for helping forge a truce in neighbouring Gaza. Today he rules, shakily, over a bitterly polarised nation. On November 27th a gathering as vast as any since the heady days of Egypt’s January 2011 revolution choked the centre of Cairo in a cacophony of protest against a man they now condemn as a new dictator. Not only has the uncowed president vowed to raise still bigger rival crowds. His embattled camp is rushing out a controversial, hastily concocted and Islamist-hued draft constitution for approval in a general referendum.
Five months into his term, seeking to capitalise on his Gaza success and to break a festering deadlock with secular opponents, Mr Morsi issued a shock, six-part decree that granted sweeping new powers to his office. The move has pitched Egypt into its gravest crisis since the uprising that ended six decades of military-backed dictatorship. It has united the hitherto bickering secular opposition, which plans to protest until he revokes his decree. It has sparked a slide of nearly 12% in an already battered local stockmarket. And it has prompted a strike by Egypt’s judges, who would normally be responsible for overseeing a constitutional referendum.
From the perspective of the president and those who have fallen in line with him, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood and fundamentalist Salafist groups, his action was understandable. Mr Morsi won office in June with a slim 51.7% of votes. Yet the Islamists, who together had gained a more convincing majority in earlier parliamentary polls, have been frustrated in converting a win into tangible change. Worse, Mr Morsi’s government has soaked up blame for unimproved government services and a feeble economy. Strapped for cash, it may soon have to resort to harsh austerity measures even as a next round of elections looms.
The Islamists sensed a narrowing window of opportunity. As they see it, an array of malevolent forces have combined to thwart them. These include not just secularists and Egypt’s large Christian minority, but also foreign powers, an irreverent and often hostile press and stubbornly obstructionist chunks of Egypt’s colossal state bureaucracy. Bolstering all these is the moneyed elite that built its wealth under the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak. [Continue reading…]