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Mixed and Dangerous Signals From Egypt

Saturday, December 8, 2012 | 3:01 PM

Dec. 8, 2012 - Two stories out of Egypt today seem to conflict with each other because of their very different implications.

Photo from news.malaysia.msn.com
First, President Mohamed Morsi is showing an inclination to declare martial law in order to subdue massive crowds protesting his recent power grab. Second, Morsi is sending signals that he might back down from his recent seizure of extra-constitutional powers.

It would be good if Morsi does relinquish the powers he gave himself, the result of which is violent protests and violent reaction by the police. People have died because of the tensions. On the other hand, Morsi's indication that marshal law might be declared is a bad signal: The only reason he would do that, most likely, is to deal with the protesters who are unhappy about his power grab. If he is really going to give up the powers he granted himself, the protesters would be satisfied and less of a threat, thereby reducing the need for police and any need for marshal law.

Tens of thousand marched on Egypt's presidential
palace, Dec. 7. Photo from The Telegraph (UK)
Unfortunately, it appears that neither Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies nor the opposition are willing to make any significant concessions. The Deccan reports today that "Egypt’s main Islamist parties, including President Mohammed Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, on Saturday rejected opposition demands to delay a referendum on a new constitution."

Egypt's military is warning of "disastrous consequences" if the crisis is not resolved by dialog. Voice of America has a story up now that says Egypt's top opposition leaders "are boycotting a national dialogue meeting at the presidential palace Saturday, despite appeals by the country's military to resolve the current political standoff at the negotiating table.  Meanwhile, Egyptian media warned that President Morsi would soon re-impose martial law. "In the ensuing violence of the past few days," reports Egypt's Ahram Online, "at least seven were killed and over 1000 injured. Assailants on both sides used firearms and bladed weapons."

Morsi has not rushed to declare marshal law, however, and seems to have floated that possibility as a bargaining tool. He has not actually put marshal law into effect as of this writing. Perhaps this is due to pressure from the U.S. and other Western nations. From the Times of India this afternoon:
Struggling to subdue continuing street protests, the government of President Mohamed Morsi has approved legislation reimposing martial law by calling on the armed forces to keep order and authorizing soldiers to arrest civilians, Egypt's state media reported on Saturday. Morsi has not yet issued the order, the flagship state newspaper Al Ahram reported. But even if merely a threat, the preparation of the measure suggested an escalation in the political battle between Egypt's new Islamist leaders and their secular opponents over an Islamist-backed draft constitution. 
 Will Morsi back away from his heightened powers? From the Jerusalem Post today:
Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi is preparing to modify the controversial decree awarding himself sweeping powers, puting him above the law, AFP quoted Prime Minister Hisham Kandil as saying on Saturday. AFP quoted Kandil as saying to Al-Mihwar television that Morsi has tasked six officials who met with members of the opposition to "modify the constitutional declaration."
Our Prediction: Egypt will crumble into civil war before June, 2013.

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