Is Morsy seeking a confrontation?

It was pretty clear that Mohamed Morsy’s decree will meet a strong opposition, wasn’t it? So why is President Morsy doing this? Is he seeking a confrontation, or not and why?

Elijah Zarwan, Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations

This is a political arm-wrestling match with some rank constitutional and legal byproducts. The current political paralysis and impasse over the constitution cannot last indefinitely, and Morsy and the Brotherhood have presented this as the primary justification for his move. The non-Islamists hoped the paralysis would force a new, more balanced constitutional assembly. Morsy moved to preclude that possibility.

But I believe that this latest declaration, and his handling of the judiciary in general, is the biggest mistake of his term so far. The president and the Brotherhood overstepped. I suspect many who were withholding judgment now see Morsy as having tipped his hand. Morsy needs political support to implement unpopular economic policies. Unless he can pull a few fat rabbits out of his hat quickly, he’s unlikely to find it now.

Convictions from the proposed revolutionary court may buy him some time, but not much. These convictions are revolutionary crack: the high is short and immediately produces a demand for more. But there’s a limit to how many corruption convictions the court can produce without spooking investors, and we saw how shallow was the satisfaction of the convictions under military rule. What people really want is the exorcism of Mubarak’s legacy, and trials cannot produce that.

Both sides have been hardening their positions, and have hardened their positions in the last few days. As they escalate, they lose their room to maneuver, making it harder for them to climb down from their positions. The political atmosphere has been poisoned from the outset. The Islamists may yet succeed in imposing an Islamist constitution on the rest of the country, but at what cost?

Wayne White, Policy Expert, Washington’s Middle East Policy Council

It does not appear that Morsi believed the opposition to his bold move would be nearly so great. He felt popular frustration over the obstructionism of the high court still dominated by Mubarak-era judges, the Mubarak-era state prosecutor who gave lighter sentences to convicted criminals from the Mubarak regime, etc. would cause many to support him across the political spectrum regardless of his even broader power grab, and also did not anticipate some opposition among more moderate elements of his own Muslim Brotherhood. In other words, he thought part of what he announced would provide enough political “carrots” to allow him to get away with the more disturbing aspects of his package of announcements.

Clearly, the timing was linked to his recent diplomatic triumph in which he demonstrated Egypt’s regional importance, but which does not necessarily translate into a mandate for dramatic domestic meddling in such an authoritarian manner.

One huge factor in all the whirling post-announcement controversy and conflict in Egypt that practically no-one has been mentioning is the still rather powerful military. Security forces commanded by the old military/security establishment are out on the streets battling protestors opposing Morsi, but it remains unclear how this key domestic player fits into the current equation. It is possible that the generals are waiting to see who appears stronger in the course of the pushing and shoving in the wake of Morsi’s move before taking sides. If they see a robust coalition forming between the secular opposition, the Christians, and a decent chunk of moderate Islamists (something they doubtless would welcome), they might consider moving to force Morsi to back down.

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