The Arab Spring is over; the Egyptian Revolution has begun. Egypt’s new president Mohammed Morsi issued a decree Sunday reconvening the country’s recently dissolved parliament. Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court disagreed, saying its finding that the parliamentary election was unconstitutional was final. The stage is set for a conflict that will define Egypt’s future and the course of stability in the Mideast region.
Mr. Morsi claims he isn’t defying but rather affirming the will of the Supreme Constitutional Court. He says his decree only nullifies the parliament’s dissolution last month by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The Egyptian high court quickly responded that its ruling was binding, final and not subject to appeal. The SCAF was merely acting as the court’s executive agent. There is no cause to reassemble a body that was unconstitutionally formed in the first place.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has been trying to slow the pace of political change in Cairo. It seeks to preserve the power and status of Egypt’s military while waiting for the results of the November elections in the United States. Mr. Morsi, however, seems intent on speeding things up, particularly while the Muslim Brotherhood has a solid supporter like Barack Obama in the White House. He issued his decree the same day he met privately with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns, so absent a White House condemnation, the power grab will be interpreted in the region as either having President Obama’s blessing, or being his idea. Call it Chicago style on the Nile.
Liberal parties in parliament are boycotting Mr. Morsi’s call since attending would affirm the power of the Islamist president over the Supreme Constitutional Court and SCAF. The military council issued a statement affirming the importance of the constitution and the rule of law. It denied Mr. Morsi’s move was part of a behind-the-scenes deal, and that any such allegation “shakes the pillars of patriotism” in the country. What concrete steps it will take remain to be seen.
The political crisis in Egypt is reminiscent of the events in France in June 1789 when the members of the Estates General were locked out of their meeting hall by command of King Louis XVI. They repaired to the king's tennis court and swore an oath not to disperse until they had reformed the French constitution. The National Assembly was born, and with it the French Revolution and the downfall of the monarchy. There followed the mass-murdering Reign of Terror, Napoleon’s dictatorship and global war. It’s important to remember that revolutions have blood-soaked dark sides.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which sold itself to the civilized world as a voice of moderation, seems intent to create a clash of powers that could unleash chaos in the Middle East. “Somewhere in sands of the desert,” William Butler Yeats wrote in 1919, a nightmarish creature with “gaze blank and pitiless as the sun” began to stir. To paraphrase the poet, what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Cairo to be born?
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