The first democratically elected leader of Egypt fled the presidential palace today as fury over his Islamist power grab boiled over in Cairo with protesters clashing with police and demanding the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood leader.
The chants of “leave, leave” and “the people want to topple the regime” heard by reporters on the ground were familiar — the same chants heard in Tahrir Square two years ago when democracy-seeking Egyptians wanted president-for-life Hosni Mubarak out.
The draft “constitution,” hastily forged by Islamists as Egypt’s other vast interest groups protested the process hijacked by the Brotherhood, was the kerosene poured on Egyptians’ anger over Morsi granting himself “temporary” power over the judiciary and all other oversight bodies.
As Mauritanian activist and blogger Nasser Weddady succinctly tweeted, “In conclusion: if you’re a copt, an atheist, an agnostic, a Baha’i, non-religious Muslim, a shi’a, a Jew or a women you’re screwed. If you’e a free thinker, an artist, a journalist, you’re screwed by #Egypt new proposed ikhwani constitution #Liberticide”
The cries from Cairo, Alexandria, and beyond are getting louder as Egyptians protest the replacement of a dictatorship with Islamist tyranny.
In Washington… crickets.
There’s been no statement by President Obama chiding the power grab. The last mention of Morsi by the White House was a week ago in the daily press briefing, where spokesman Jay Carney was asked about the Egyptian president’s moves and in response urged “inclusive dialogue between the government of Egypt and all Egyptian stakeholders.”
“The current constitutional impasse is an internal Egyptian situation that can only be resolved by the Egyptian people, through peaceful democratic dialogue,” Carney said. “And we call on all Egyptians exercising their right to freedom of expression to do so peacefully.”
National Security Adviser Tom Donilon today met with Assistant to the President of Egypt for Foreign Relations and International Cooperation Dr. Essam el-Haddad to reaffirm “the strategic relationship between the United States and Egypt,” according to the White House, and “discussed a broad range of issues, including our bilateral economic cooperation, joint efforts to promote regional security and build on the cease-fire in Gaza, and Egypt’s democratic transition and the need to move forward with a peaceful and inclusive transition that respects the rights of all Egyptians.”
When reminded of the administration’s strict stance against Mubarak back during the Arab Spring, Carney said “much has changed since Mubarak was in power.”
“We need to step back, and look at the transformation that has been incurring in Egypt since the revolution began there,” he said.
But the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee suggested that the Obama administration has blinders on because of how much it wants Morsi to succeed.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) noted late last week that the White House “seemed to go out of its way to praise the Morsi government for making the ceasefire agreement happen” in Gaza.
“According to news reports, administration officials indicated off the record that President Obama was investing heavily in Morsi and views him as someone with whom the U.S. could do business. Of course, then Morsi immediately engaged in a massive domestic power grab, claiming virtually unlimited powers,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
“What steps should the Congress take to hold the Morsi government accountable for its actions? What further conditions should be placed on U.S. political, economic, and military support to Egypt?”
A congressional letter today demanded that Morsi step up his effort to stop arms smuggling into Gaza if he’s so concerned about keeping the peace.
“Given Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza, there’s only one way to get weapons into Gaza, and that is through Egypt,” said the bipartisan letter led by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). “In order for the ceasefire to hold, it is imperative that your government bolster its efforts to halt all weapons smuggling taking place via both overland and underground routes.”
The senators wrote that they’re “deeply disturbed” by statements from Hamas and Iranian leaders that Tehran is restocking the terror operation in Gaza, including with long-range Fajr-5 rockets.
“In the interest of peace and security, Egypt should take immediate and decisive action to halt such smuggling,” they continued. “This is all the more important in light of the potential easing of restrictions on the movement of people and goods through Gaza border crossings as a condition of the ceasefire you helped to broker. Preventing Hamas from re-arming is just one step in helping to prevent violence from erupting again.”
Signing the letter were Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga..), John Tester (D-Mont.) Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
Morsi has called for a referendum on the constitution Dec. 15. Two days later, he’s rumored to be coming to Washington — something the State Department would not confirm today.
“I don’t have anything to announce one way or the other,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said when pressed on the rumor at today’s press briefing.
“We are where we were yesterday, that it’s very important now that the Egyptian people feel that the process to ratify and approve this constitution is credible,” he said.
Former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) mirrored the likely attitude of the administration on Fox News Sunday, when he said that he believes “when push comes to shove” the Muslim Brotherhood is still a workable partner.
“When they first came to power, there were calls to ban alcohol. They didn’t do it. Why? They cared about tourist dollars. There was a proposal to segregate beaches, men and women, and to regulate what women could wear. Didn’t do it because they were concerned about the economic realities. They need Western aid. In the Gaza conflict, they’ve behaved responsibly and tried to bring things to a conclusion,” Bayh said.
“So there is evidence that, while they may be throwing some bones to their most fervent supporters in terms of constitutional language, and that is concerning, at the end of the day, when push comes to shove, they may behave more pragmatically.”
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on CNN today “you’ve got to be extremely worried when you see instability affecting Egypt.”
“These are the birth pains of proper democracy, in some ways, but this struggle is immensely important, because you — obviously what is important in these countries where they’ve moved to a democratic system is that there is a clear understanding, if you like, that democracy is not just a way of voting, it’s a way of thinking,” Blair said. “And part of that way of thinking is that you’ve got to protect minorities. You’ve got to — I mean, democracy doesn’t function unless it is accompanied by an open mind.”