Mohamed Morsi may be a new president but he’s developing a very steep learning curve. Last Thursday, possibly buoyed by his success in negotiating a ceasefire in Gaza, Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi released a new constitutional declaration giving himself almost unlimited, if supposedly temporary power. The declaration says that any law or decision issued by the president is exempt from revocation by any other party or institution. It also says that the existing Shura or Senate Council and the much-beleaguered Constituent Assembly may not be dissolved by any court order, thereby preempting verdicts, expected early next month, on both bodies.
More disturbingly, in Article 6, he has given himself the power to employ all “necessary procedures and measures” needed to confront any “danger threatening the January 25 revolution, the life of the nation, national unity, safety of the nation, or curbing state institutions in performing their roles.” That sounds like an emergency law.
Contrary to the claims of his many detractors, Morsi is not acting in a vacuum. As far as its democratic transition is concerned, the country is in a state of near paralysis. The democratically elected parliament was dissolved on a technicality of the electoral process, leaving Egypt with no legislative body, and the economy is buckling at the knees. If the Islamist-majority Constituent Assembly were to be dissolved, the democratic transition would be delayed for an unknown period. As of the beginning of the week, less than a third of the Assembly remained, the rest having walked out. The draft of the constitution that it has produced was unacceptable, for one reason or another, to a spectrum of members, comprising liberals, secular, Christians, feminists and human rights and labor activists. However, Egypt’s opposition has failed, miserably, to put aside its own differences and come up with a cohesive front.
The current constitutional declaration clearly states that if the constituent assembly fails to complete its task in the allotted time (six months, about to run out) then Morsi would have to personally appoint a new one. Given the open rejection of the current formation, the chances of any assembly he appoints achieving favor, or, more importantly, success, are extremely slim. It would be another misstep.
I think it's unusual for the chief of staff to go on a trip, particularly on a trip this long. The chief of staff is usually more of a chief operating officer in the White House itself, and normally when your principal—whether it's the president himself or the head of Cabinet agency—goes abroad, you have his deputy and those folks staying behind to help manage operations in his absence.