Egypt's president behaves like his predecessors

By Hamza Hendawi

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Dec. 10 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Assad did not disappoint, but the so-called "Damascus Spring" he tolerated lasted less than a year before authorities began to arrest dissidents and jail them again. Assad is now fighting for his survival in a civil war that has killed at least 40,000 Syrians since March 2011.

Even the late Moammar Gadhafi brought hopes for a better life and development to Libyans when he seized power in a 1969 coup that toppled the monarchy. He rode a wave of popular support for several years before he began ruling the North African nation as a fiefdom, with his family dividing up its vast oil wealth.

So much hope had been placed on Morsi's shoulders during his campaign and the early days of his presidency that liberals found it hard to accept his latest grab for power. Many of them voted for him in June not so much out of conviction as out of a desire to see the defeat of Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq. Morsi narrowly beat him, winning only 51 percent of the vote.

Morsi had fed these expectations by promising inclusion and equality, suggesting at one point that he might appoint a Christian as vice president. In the end, he gave the job to a Muslim judge, and the one Christian among his four assistants has quit in protest of his handling of the political crisis.

In fact, of the 17 people he named to a presidential advisory council, seven quit over the same issue. Most of those who remain on the panel are Islamists.

All those who quit, in addition to Vice President Mahmoud Mekki, said they were not consulted about the president's Nov. 22 decrees. Morsi has vowed never to infringe on the freedom of the press, but since coming to office, Egypt has seen a private TV station closed and several newspaper journalists and bloggers hauled before the courts. Brotherhood members or sympathizers have been named editors of most of the nation's 50-plus state publications, including its flagship dailies. Hundreds of Islamists are besieging a media complex on the western outskirts of Cairo to protest what they see as a hostile editorial line of the powerful, privately owned TV networks.

The spiritual leader of the Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, offered a rare glimpse of the vast influence he wields in Egypt when he criticized prosecutors for releasing most of the dozens of protesters who were arrested last week in clashes with Morsi supporters near the presidential palace. The prosecutors cited a lack of evidence in the release, but they still drew the ire of Badie, who has no official capacity in Morsi's administration.

Also Sunday, the man thought to be the Brotherhood's most powerful member, Khairat el-Shater, indicated in statements on TV that he had voice recordings of individuals allegedly plotting to destabilize Morsi's rule. El-Shater did not identify the individuals and did not say how or why he had access to the recordings. Like Badie, he has no official role in government.

Morsi and his Brotherhood supporters, however, must contend with a very different Egypt than his predecessors — one in which nearly every adult has a strong opinion on topics such as political leaders, the economy and how to reform the police force.

"He has made a huge mistake when he did not accurately read the Egyptian population in terms of whether or not they will accept what is essentially a return to authoritarian rule," said Tarek Radwan, a Middle East expert at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center in Washington. "He saw himself as having 'revolutionary legitimacy,' which allows him to take the drastic steps he did. He does not have that mandate."

Evidence of the new Egypt has been on display since the uprising that toppled Mubarak began on Jan. 25, 2011, with wave after wave of demonstrations, strikes and sit-ins that at times made the country look almost ungovernable.

In the past three weeks, tens of thousands of Morsi opponents have rallied in Cairo and elsewhere against the decrees and a draft constitution that they see to be favoring Islamists, restricting civil liberties and giving clerics a say over legislation.

And then there is all the graffiti — the unflattering caricatures and slogans against Morsi and the Brotherhood that the protesters have spray-painted on the walls outside the presidential palace.

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