Understanding Mohamed Morsi, His journey from farm boy to most powerful man in the Middle East, by Joshua Hammer
….And yet no sooner had Morsi established a new role as an international statesman than he outraged world leaders, and his own citizens, with a stunning extralegal gambit. On November 22, Morsi declared that presidential laws and decrees “are final and binding and cannot be appealed by any way or to any entity” until Egypt’s new constitution is approved and a parliament elected. The power grab essentially short-circuited the role of the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court, which had threatened to disband the Islamist-dominated assembly responsible for drafting a new constitution. Violence broke out, resulting in more than 500 injuries and at least three deaths. Morsi’s defenders argued that the move was temporary, intended to counter efforts by Mubarak-appointed judges to block his reforms of the country’s institutions. But it looked more like a blatant effort to ram through the constitution without judicial oversight—the act of a power-hungry politician enthralled by his own newfound stature. And Morsi raised suspicions that his overtures to political pluralism—the appointment of a few token women and Coptic Christians to high-level cabinet positions—were just a smokescreen for his real agenda, the consolidation of power to build an Islamic state.
Another concern of Egyptian democrats was the new constitution, which was written by an assembly that was 70 percent Islamist. Hard-line Salafists, who comprised 25 percent of the assembly, backed off many of their initial demands, such as making zakat (charity) as well as the hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca) constitutional obligations. But the final draft still proved alarming enough to provoke a walkout of secularists and Coptic Christians. The new charter also leaves intact Article 2 from Egypt’s former constitution, which states that only “principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation,” but does not call specifically for sharia’s enforcement. However, the Islamists more rigorously defined those principles, singling out “the scholars of Al Azhar University,” a venerated Islamic institution in Cairo, as the final arbiters of Egyptian law. One article makes it illegal to insult the Prophet Mohammed. Hazy language about women’s rights has raised the fear that the Islamists will now have the leeway to lower the marriage age from 18, decriminalize female genital mutilation, and impose discriminatory property inheritance and divorce laws.
Morsi has a practical incentive to cooperate with the hard-liners. An alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists would ease day-to-day governance; in the next parliament, Islamists, including both the Freedom and Justice Party and the Nour Party, will likely control 60 percent of the seats, a working majority. Morsi has already appointed three Nour Party members to his cabinet, in recognition of their growing clout. Salafist leaders have made forthright demands that Morsi demonstrate his Islamist credentials in return for their support, be it through the implementation of sharia, a confrontational position toward Israel, or other hard-line policies. But Morsi’s early feints toward the Salafists have triggered loud objections from secular and minority Egyptians; any further concessions would undoubtedly spawn violent protests such as those that rocked Cairo and Alexandria in late November. It’s not yet clear how Morsi intends to resolve the conflict.