“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
That’s a line from The Who song “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and it’s something many Egyptians might be humming to themselves right now. It follows a decree last week by newly-elected president Mohammed Morsi that basically gives him unchecked powers and neuters Egypt’s judiciary.
Coming a little less than two years after Egyptians overthrew the dictatorial, repressive regime of Hosni Mubarak and helped kick the Arab Spring into high gear, they must be wondering if they’ve merely exchanged one autocrat for another autocrat.
Morsi insists the decree is only temporary and is designed to prevent judges installed during the Mubarak era from checkmating his reforms. Once a parliament is seated, Morsi claims, the decree will be lifted.
“I don’t seek to grab legislative power,” Morsi said in response to his critics. “We’re moving on a clear path; we are walking in a clear direction. And we have a big, clear goal: the new Egypt.”
Those are comforting words from Morsi, who was elected in a crowded field of candidates earlier this year. However, Egyptians interested in building a democracy and the international community as a whole have good reason to hold their breath. A U.S. State Department spokesman said that the declaration “raises concerns.”
While watching and waiting is surely advisable, the Morsi decree is a sign that, at best, the birth of democracy in Egypt will not be easy or, at worst, it could be stillborn. A stable, democratic Egypt, which respects dissent and human rights, would contribute to lowering the temperature in the region and would serve as a lodestar to other nations wishing to build free and open societies.
To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: Mr. Morsi, lift this decree.