December 10, 2012 | Quote

Morsi Retreats, a Little

The Post reports that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s repeal of part of his controversial decree has not quelled protests. “Opposition leaders called for more protests after Morsi refused to cancel a referendum, scheduled for Saturday, on a contentious draft constitution that critics have deemed illegitimate. … It is also unclear to many whether the critical element of Morsi’s Nov. 22 decree, which gave him the power to legislate without judicial oversight, has been substantially altered. The new declaration, while voiding the old, contained an article that grants the president the right to make new decrees, free of oversight.”

The rush referendum on the constitution drafted in secrecy by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood allies remains on schedule. Meanwhile, the BBC reports that Morsi “has ordered the military to maintain security and protect state institutions in the run-up to a controversial referendum on a new constitution. The army has also been given the power of arrest.”

In other words, this is Hosni Mubarak’s autocracy with an Islamist tinge — the worst of all worlds. Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies tells me, “Morsi is now failing as both a democrat and a dictator. Morsi’s about-face will do little to stop the protests.  He has managed to manufacture enough anger among the opposition to unite them. After months of being fractured, they are now working together to heap on the pressure.” As for the referendum, Schanzer says, “As for the referendum, it’s still scheduled to go forward. Interestingly, dozens of Egyptian diplomats abroad have signed a petition against it. And parties in Egypt, like the Wafd, plan to fight it until the last moment possible. Welcome to the next phase of Egypt’s revolution.”

If nothing else, Morsi’s actions should clear up any confusion as to his political aims. An old Middle East hand observes that ”he has emerged as a Muslim Brotherhood activist and left behind the alternate identity that was available: president of all the people. Moreover, the coalition that pushed him back — liberals, secularists, Copts, constitutionalists, and old regime supporters — found that they had real strength.” He continues, “That strength may dissipate if they turn to squabbling, as is most likely, because they only came together against Morsi rather than for something positive — to stop something, not to create something.”

Indeed, The Post suggests the delayed response to Morsi’s effort at damage control reflects “confusion and disarray” among the various groups that compose the opposition.

This is yet another chapter in President Obama’s reactive foreign policy. He clung to Mubarak, then threw him overboard. Then he lurched to embrace Morsi. Now he remains rather mute in the face of the authoritarian power play.

Obama continues to make the same mistake over and over: hugging one tinpot leader after another without clearly setting out what behavior we expect as a condition of our aid and what values (e.g. gender equality, rule of law) are essential to continue a close relationship with the United States.

Under Obama, we would need to amend Lord Palmerston’s aphorism: “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” Currently, we have none of the latter, at least none that can be readily discerned.

Read the full article here.