The Middle East Channel

Egypt’s President Morsi backpedals to stem crisis

Egypt’s President Morsi backpedals to stem crisis

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi worked to diffuse a crisis sparked by a decree extending his powers meeting with the Supreme Judicial Council on Monday. In five hours of talks with senior judges, Morsi appeared to pull back from his attempts to assert power beyond judicial review saying he respected judicial independence. He asserted that he would not withdraw the decree, but assured that it would be limited to "sovereign matters." Morsi has maintained that the move was to ensure that the judges, appointed by former President Hosni Mubarak, could not dissolve the constituent assembly. The Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved the first constituent assembly as well as the Islamist-dominated parliament. Morsi has failed to appease demonstrators, and opponents have continued protesting in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for a fifth day. Clashes have been reported between police and protesters on Tuesday, and the demonstration is expected to grow throughout the day. The Muslim Brotherhood has postponed its counter "million-man" march to avoid increasing "public tension."

Syria

A Syrian military air strike on an olive oil press reportedly killed dozens of civilians on Tuesday, according to opposition activists. The strike hit the Abu Hilal oil press about 2 miles west of Idlib city on Tuesday killing an estimated 20 people and wounding 50 others. However, the British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it could only currently confirm five deaths. According to activists, it is unclear if there was an opposition target in the area, but there were opposition fighters nearby. The Syrian government has not yet commented on the accusations. Activists claim the attack was in response to recent strategic gains by opposition fighters, including several military bases near Damascus as well as a hydro-electric dam the opposition reportedly seized on Monday. Fighting was also reported on the southern edge of the opposition held Maaret al-Numan, on the highway between Damascus and Aleppo. Meanwhile, the government has been demolishing neighborhoods in Damascus in an apparent strategy to disperse and weaken opposition fighters by destroying the areas from which they operate. Officially, "presidential decree No. 66" was issued to rid Damascus of its illegal slums, however a Syrian official said the move was essential to drive out "terrorists."

Headlines  

  • Eight years after the Palestinian leader’s death, Yasir Arafat’s remains have been exhumed as part of an investigation into whether he was poisoned.
  • Israel’s former foreign minister and former head of the opposition Kadima party Tzipi Livni has announced a return to politics forming "The Movement" party which will further fracture the center-left.
  • The Palestinian Authority has submitted a draft resolution to the U.N. General Assembly for recognition of Palestine as a nonmember state, which will come to a vote on Thursday.

Arguments and Analysis

Dealing with Iran (Reza Marashi, The Cairo Review of Global Affairs)
"Fast forward four years, and the U.S. and Iran stand at the precipice of a military conflict that could engulf the entire Middle East, if not the world. President Obama has repeated several times-including at the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual conference-that time still exists for a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vociferously disagrees and makes clear his preference for a military confrontation aimed at destroying Iran’s nuclear program: "The world tells Israel: ‘Wait. There’s still time.’ And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?’ Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel."1 How did an American president who spoke of engagement based on mutual interests and mutual respect end up with no good options at his disposal? The devil is in the details.

To better understand how Obama’s Iran policy has played out, it is important to deconstruct the realities and drivers of his strategy, and the political psychology behind each round of negotiations involving the U.S. and Iran. Understanding how we got to where we are will help us figure out how to move beyond the status quo to a more productive and less dangerous relationship with Iran."

A Way Out of Egypt’s Transitional Quicksand (International Crisis Group)

"President Mohamed Morsi’s dramatic one-two punch – producing a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas on 22 November; issuing a constitutional declaration granting himself full powers the next day – was proof of remarkable political deftness. It also was evidence of the impasse in which Egypt’s transition has been stuck as well as of the Muslim Brotherhood’s worrying tendency to try to overcome it by ignoring rather than compromising with its detractors. Morsi had ample justification for frustration. A highly politicised judiciary has been doing all in its power to hinder the new leadership’s efforts and obstruct the expression of popular will, while the non-Islamist opposition has not shown itself the least bit constructive or conciliatory. But the president has offered the wrong answer to a real problem. He used a chainsaw where a scalpel was needed. The key lies in devising a compromise enabling the transition to move forward at a reasonable pace while offering substantive guarantees to an apprehensive opposition."

–By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey