December 7, 2012 6:30 pm
Mohamed Morsi has belatedly offered his growing number of opponents a “national dialogue” while refusing to rescind his seizure last month of judicial powers or put off a referendum next Saturday on a new draft constitution written to the prescriptions of the Muslim Brotherhood, the powerful Islamist movement that propelled him from obscure party functionary to the presidency of Egypt.
The opposition, predictably, is reluctant to play along. Mr Morsi’s stance is like that of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, who interrupts trials to expostulate: “sentence first – verdict afterwards”. But the risks to Egypt of the Brotherhood’s mix of thuggery and dogmatism over the past two weeks are no whimsical fantasy; Mr Morsi is running out of time to save his country from chaos.
It is now clear that his November 22 edict exempting presidential decisions from judicial oversight was designed to shield the authors of the new constitution as they rushed through a text that is Islamist in conception and a weak guarantor of civic and personal freedoms. It is true that the constitutional court – with judges appointed by Hosni Mubarak, the dictator deposed in 2011 – exceeded its powers by dissolving Egypt’s first elected parliament earlier this year. It is just as true that this parliament packed the panel writing the constitution with Islamists, triggering the withdrawal of secular forces, women and Christians.
In forcing through the new charter, Mr Morsi broke his pledge to be president of all Egyptians. In unleashing Brotherhood thugs on furious protesters, he acts like a faction chief. No wonder crowds are calling for the overthrow of “the militia regime”. It was not for this that Egyptians risked their lives to topple Mr Mubarak’s rule.
The Brotherhood has won every election since Egypt’s transition to democracy began. After 80 years underground, it has every right to take its place in the political arena. But with this comes the obligation to play by rules agreed by all sectors of society.
As the democratically elected president of Egypt – by a thin majority – Mr Morsi is obliged to govern for all Egyptians, not take dictation from the Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood. He should scrap the referendum, and sit down for talks without preconditions with the opposition National Salvation Front, an alliance of some two dozen groups headed by Mohammed ElBaradei, the liberal Nobel laureate.
The temptation will be to press ahead, reliant on the tacit backing of the army, whose enormous privileges the new charter jealously protects. But the imperative need is for a constitution that commands much more consensus, for Egyptians to feel they have a future they do not have to keep fighting for in the streets.
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