White House officials remained silent during the extended Thanksgiving weekend, as Egypt’s pro-democracy groups called on President Barack Obama to condemn Thursday’s power grab by their country’s Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi.
Morsi decreed Nov. 22 that his pronouncements and edicts were beyond the reach of judicial review. The announcement was met by resistance from the nation’s top judges, who said they would fight Morsi’s unusual self-elevation to near-dictator status.
“I am waiting to see, I hope soon, a very strong statement of condemnation by the U.S., by Europe and by everybody who really cares about human dignity,” declared Mohamed ElBaradei, who is one of Egypt’s more visible non-Islamist politicians.
So far, the White House has not weighed in, although Morsi’s power grab is a repudiation of the “Arab Spring” democracy movement that Obama has supported for two years.
It is also a rejection of Obama’s efforts to use Egypt to mute the religious conflict between the Arab world and Israel, and a jarring followup to the Nov. 21 cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, which Morsi and Obama negotiated.
Obama’s press secretary, Jay Carney, is expected to face media questions Nov. 26 about the administration’s response.
So far, the White House’s only comment has been a nondescript paragraph, released Nov. 23 by the Department of State.
“The decisions and declarations announced on November 22 raise concerns… We call for calm and encourage all parties to work together and call for all Egyptians to resolve their differences over these important issues peacefully and through democratic dialogue,” said the statement, which did not mention Morsi.
There has been no White House response to ElBaradei’s Nov. 24 comments.
Obama backed the 2011 removal of Egypt’s strongman, Hosni Mubarak, and then pressured Egypt’s army to stay on the sidelines while Islamist parties competed for – and won – roughly 75 percent of the seats in the nation’s parliament.
But Morsi’s takeover now threatens to shift Egypt’s populist, Islam-friendly and democratic “Arab Spring” movement towards a hard-line Islamist theocracy, similar to Iran’s, which is hostile to democracy.
Islamist theocracies create an apartheid-like system where Western-style rights are supplanted by Islamic sharia law, and where Muslim men rule over Muslim women, Christians and Jews.
“Morsi appears to be fulfilling the [Islamists’] and his own long shared desire to re-create a Sharia supremacist Egyptian state,” Islam expert Andrew Bostom told The Daily Caller. Bostom is author of a new book, “Sharia versus Freedom: The Legacy of Islamic Totalitarianism.”
Morsi asserted his dictatorial powers Nov. 22, amid applause from his fellow Islamists in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and those in the even more radical Salafists’ Nour party.
In addition to making Morsi immune to judges’ oversight, the surprise declaration said that Egypt’s courts also have no authority over a constitution-writing panel that is now dominated by Islamists.
The Islamists on the 100-member panel are pushing to impose Shariah Islamic law on the country’s roughly 72 million inhabitants, prompting a walkout this month by roughly 22 free-market and left-wing panel members.
Morsi also announced a plan to retry recently released officials from the Mubarak regime, and described his political opponents in the same language – “thugs” – as protesters used to describe Mubarak’s supporters.
Non-Islamist political parties, such as ElBaradei’s, are weak and divided, with the judiciary serving as the main obstacle to Egyptian Islamists’ advances. For example, judges dissolved the Islamist-dominated parliament in June. Islamists see them as a threat to their leverage on the constitution-writing panel.
The non-Islamist parties include both free-market and left-wing politicians. Since Morsi’s announcement, their disparate supporters have united, protested and rioted, and are trying to organize major demonstrations.
So far, the police force has followed Morsi’s orders and contained the anti-Morsi street protests. And the Egyptian army – whose senior generals were recently replaced by Morsi appointees – has not publicly objected to Morsi’s self-promotion.
Morsi’s power grab came one day after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton effusively praised him for helping force an end to Israel’s counterattack against rocket assaults launched from the Gaza enclave by Hamas, an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“This is a critical moment for the region,” Clinton said. Nov. 21. “Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace.”
Clinton’s statement reflected the administration’s long-standing decision to support democracy in Egypt, even if it comes with Islamists gaining political dominance. The strategy, outlined by Obama in a 2009 speech in Cairo, is to use democratic politics to help stabilize the region, and to weaken jihadi movements by arguing that Arabs can achieve their goals via the ballot box, rather than with attacks on American targets.
Clinton met with Morsi in July, and warned Egypt’s military against intervention. “The United States supports the full transition to civilian rule with all that entails,” she said.
U.S. officials say they have backed the results of the Egyptian elections – not Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood.
But Obama has repeatedly praised Morsi, and his deputies once announced plans for Morsi to visit White House.
That plan was torpedoed when Libyan jihadis destroyed the U.S Consulate and CIA annex in the Libyan city of Benghazi and killed four Americans on Sept. 11.
However, it is not clear if Morsi and his Islamist allies can, or wish to, distance themselves from jihadi groups like Hamas.
Most Islamists and jihadis share a similar ideology and wish to create Islamic theocracies through elections, by force, or both.
For example, in a May 2012 campaign speech Morsi promised an Islamic theocracy and a constitution built on Shariah Islamic law.
“The Shariah, then the Shariah, and finally, the Shariah,” he declared. “This nation will enjoy blessing and revival only through the Islamic Shariah. I take an oath before Allah and before you all that regardless of the actual text [of the constitution]… this people will not accept a text that does not reflect the true meaning of the Islamic Shariah as a text to be implemented and as a platform.”