Is there an Egyptian nation?

Shadi Hamid writes: In the latest round of Egypt’s current crisis — once again pitting Islamists against non-Islamists — demonstrators gathered at the presidential palace in Cairo to protest President Mohamed Morsi’s stunning decision to claim authoritarian, albeit temporary powers and his subsequent moves to rush through a controversial constitution. In a grim reminder of the country’s precarious state, police clashed with protesters and fired tear gas.

But this isn’t really about Morsi and his surprise decree — though to be sure, parts of the decree employ language straight out of Orwell and seem almost designed to provoke and polarize. However, neither the decree nor the draft constitution are quite as bad as Morsi’s opponents insisted. The opposition’s sometimes bizarre comparisons to Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, the 1933 Enabling Act, and the French Revolution suggest a legitimate fury (and an intriguing fascination with fascism), but make little sense as historic analogies.

Morsi could have read his Friday shopping list on national television, and it might have made little difference. The decree, after all, was only the latest in what Morsi’s opponents see as a long list of abuses. Egypt’s “original” revolutionaries are one such group that blast the Brotherhood’s compromises small and large with the old state bureaucracy, lamenting how their revolution was sacrificed on the altar of expediency and gradualism. And it is true that the Brotherhood-appointed leaders of the Ministry of the Interior, the military, and the intelligence apparatus include men who were complicit in some of the worst human rights abuses of the Hosni Mubarak era — and have gone unpunished to this day.

But these mostly younger revolutionaries, whose critiques have been admirably consistent, are a small minority. The rest of the opposition is an odd assortment of liberals, socialists, old regime nostalgists, and ordinary, angry Egyptians, each whom have their own disparate grievances and objectives. The liberals and leftists in the equation, led by figures such as Mohamed ElBaradei, Hamdeen Sabbahi, and Amr Moussa, have little in common with each other — besides a fear that their country is being taken over, and taken away, by Islamists. While they may be “liberal,” in the sense of opposing state interference in private morality, their attachment to democracy is mercurial at best. Many of them welcomed the dissolution of Egypt’s first democratically elected parliament, called on the military to intervene and “safeguard” the civil state, and even cast their presidential ballot for Ahmed Shafiq, Morsi’s opponent and Mubarak’s last prime minister. [Continue reading…]

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