Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi
After some 30 years under Hosni Mubarak's repressive rule, it is perhaps understandable that protests erupted in Egypt over new President Mohammed Morsi's decrees assuming new powers "sidestepping the courts freeing his office of judicial oversight" which announced on Thursday.
With no new constitution or parliament (the latter disbanded by the country's Supreme Court before Morsi was elected) he holds wide executive and legislative authority and his new decree brought immediate protests and clashes in the cities of Alexandria, Suez, Port Said, Cairo and towns to the south that continued through the weekend .
Then yesterday, judges denounced Morsi's decree and called for a judge's strike. The Supreme Council of the Judiciary called the decree "an unprecedented attack on judicial independence" urging Morsi to rescind it. The "Judges Club", an association of judges, called for a nationwide strike of all courts in Egypt. Now it should be noted ALL judges in Egypt were appointed during the rule of former President Mubarak, so Morsi's actions need to be considered in that context.
Be that as it may, some demonstrators referred to Morsi as a "Pharaoh". Many fear with his strong Muslim Brotherhood affiliation, he would move the country closer to Shariah Law, strongly opposed by secularists, liberals and Christians.
Of course, earlier in the week, Morsi was recognized and hailed after taking a pivotal role in bringing about the cease fire between the Israeli's and Hamas in Gaza.
So the new turbulence in Egypt could be interpreted as Morsi believing his newly acquired international status as a statesman could have emboldened him to assume new powers internally. But considering the widespread protests against his decree, many obviously see a new autocrat in the making all too ready to unravel the gains of the revolution.
From a distance it is hard to decipher exactly if Morsi has acted as the benevolent dictator, hoping to get the existing constitutional assembly moving to write a new constitution or his assuming new powers is just the beginning toward greater autocratic rule.
For he did say when making the new decree, "What I'm working to achieve is political and economic stability. That is what I want. I am not worried about the presence of opposition. I am careful to allow a strong opposition that will strictly monitor me."
So in "sidestepping" the Mubarak appointed judges and courts is his decree an expeditious way to get the Constitutional Assembly moving to write the new constitution and establish the rule of law based on that constitution that will as Morsi says "strictly monitor me"?
My sense is it's worth giving him the benefit of the doubt to see if he means as he says. Whether that is extreme naivete or misplaced hope I believe Morsi is an Egyptian first and his personal Muslim beliefs are not intended to establish Shariah Law and not intended to disregard the views of minorities in Egypt.
Historically, the time after the euphoria of a revolutionary overthrow there is internal turbulence. Egypt is not unique in having its own internal instability with accusations of abandoning the revolution. What we are currently witnessing in Libya after last year's overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi is post revolutionary instability of ethnic rivalry and lawlessness with many sides accusing the others of abandoning the revolution.
Every country is different and in post revolutionary times of internal upheaval there may be case made for a little benevolent dictatorship at times.
Is that giving Morsi a "pass"? That may be. The Arab spring awakened the people and heightened their sensitivity toward anything that smacks of autocracy. We'll have to see how Morsi's actions plays out. In the end it'll be up to the Egyptian people. Based on the current protests it's highly unlikely they'll allow a new "Mubarak" clone to reign over them.