Egypt has certainly been an interesting player in the international community as of late. After an Arab Spring uprising dethroned long time autocrat Honsi Mubarak, Muhammad Morsi was democratically elected by the Islamic majority in Egypt. It is always interesting to see who will fill the power vacuum created by a revolution. In this case it was Mr. Morsi, whose background is with the Muslim Brotherhood, the sometimes extremist / jihadist socio-political Islamic organization.
His history with the brotherhood notwithstanding, it is always difficult to build a stable democracy after a revolution. Things are still in a state of flux, a power-grab ensues, and sometimes legitimate attempts at reform can be overridden by the self-interests of powerful parties.
With this in mind, Mr. Morsi recently declared himself above judicial review—temporarily—as he attempts to push a referendum for his new constitution. This was in response to the Egyptian judiciary (which is still dominated by Mubarak appointed judges) dissolving the democratically elected Islamic dominated legislature. Mr. Morsi sought to safeguard his attempt at writing a constitution from his opponents who continue to question the legitimacy of his rule, and then relinquish these powers once the constitution was in place. But it had the unintended effect of bolstering his opponents. They used this opportunity to paint Mr. Morsi as the next dictator of Egypt.
An independent judiciary is important for democracy to function. By it is not enough for the judiciary to be independent of just the president or the legislature. In order to be a truly independent judiciary, judges must be indiscriminate in their upholding of the law. This is not the case, as many of the judges now were appointed by Egypt’s previous dictator. Therefore, any time the judiciary raises concerns about Morsi’s legitimacy, it has to be taken with a grain of salt.
The constitution draws both praise and criticism; minority parties argue they were excluded and that individual’s rights are not protected strongly enough, while the majority points to vast improvements from under the Mubarak regime, while claiming that the constitution was drafted fairly for all Egyptians despite the absence of certain factions in its drafting. Without seeing the actual wording of the document, it is impossible for me to venture a guess as to who is correct. As is often the case with legal documents, the devil is in the details, and everything is open to interpretation.
It is my impression that Mr. Morsi genuinely wants a peaceful and modernized democracy in Egypt. He backed off his decree when it drew criticism with the Egyptian public, an example of the political flexibility and responsiveness needed for democracy to function. Also, in this day and age, everything about the revolution is so transparent and well documented, that if Mr. Morsi did not honor his statements about building democracy and making Egypt work for all Egyptians regardless of ethnicity and beliefs, he would be exposed as a fraud so quickly that any hard fought credibility he earned for his regime would vanish. Egypt played a crucial role in the recent cease-fire between Israel and Palestine. It seems that Egypt is fostering a strong relationship with the western world, with the vast standard of living and economic benefits that tend to come with it. It makes little sense after what has happened in Egypt over the last year for Mr. Morsi to abandon this relationship now.
However, crazier things have happened in history in the quest for power. We will have to keep our eyes out and see how things progress in Egypt, and the role it plays in stabilizing the Middle-East region as a whole.