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Morsi Stoops To Conquer

Egyptian President Morsi backtracked on a decree he issued two weeks ago that gave him extraordinary powers and sparked a political crisis when protestors labeled Morsi a dictator and attacked the presidential palace. Those protestors are still defiant, despite Morsi’s capitulation, the Washington Post reports:

The decree, which Morsi had said was necessary to move Egypt’s democratic transition forward, will be replaced by a modified version of the original declaration. The most controversial article, which placed all of Morsi’s actions beyond judicial review, is gone, said ­Mohammad Salim al-Awa, spokesman for a national political dialogue held Saturday. […]

Opposition leaders cast the president’s backtracking as an inadequate response to the anger that has driven tens of thousands of protesters into the streets over the past two weeks. But some also took Morsi’s readjustment of his edict as a sign of weakness that could be exploited. […]

The new decree satisfies a key demand of opposition leaders by scaling back some of Morsi’s power, though many said the article has already served its purpose for Morsi. He used it to protect an Islamist-dominated constitution-writing panel from dissolution by Egypt’s highest court, enabling the panel to pass a draft charter that the opposition said fails to enshrine the rights of women and minority groups, or limit the powers of the president.

Looks like Morsi has chosen substance over show. Morsi and the Islamists’ likely win on the constitution torpedoes liberal hopes and will leave the Muslim Brotherhood and the army sharing power. This is probably not very good for Egypt, but also probably the outcome closest to the wishes of a majority.

The ability to turn out large crowds in the major cities is the strongest weapon the seculars have. Probably if it came to a battle on the streets, the Islamists would win, turning out slum dwellers and others who are likely to be more brutal and more numerous than the liberals and seculars. But a battle on the streets would be costly for Morsi: alienating western opinion, empowering the army (which the seculars at this point would like as it would weaken the hold of the Islamists)  and scaring off foreign investors.

By stepping back on the presidential decree and moving forward on the constitutional vote, Morsi makes it harder for the liberals to turn out the huge crowds that could force him to turn either to the military or the street fighters to maintain order. And with constitutional legitimacy in his hands after the referendum, he will be much less vulnerable to liberal street protests.

Morsi is doing well against the liberals, but his real enemy is the logic of revolutions. The next turn of the screw will come when, as seems likely, the relatively moderate wing of the Muslim Brotherhood fails to cure the snake-bitten economy.

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