Risky game

A protester returns a tear gas canister to the riot police in Cairo November 25, 2012. (REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

What Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi started with his recent decrees granting him sweeping powers has ended in demonstrations, death, and damage both material and political which may prove impossible to undo.

The reaction to Mursi’s decision is a manifestation of his failures to address political problems with a deft hand and a clear vision.

Perhaps the president made a miscalculation, in the wake of the euphoria over his role in the Hamas-Israel cease-fire, or perhaps he was taking advantage of that positivity. If the latter is true, it exposes his opportunism.

Whatever the truth behind it, this decision has also united the opposition, where too Mursi has dangerously miscalculated, and has proved that despite the challenges of the last two years, Egypt’s independents, secularists and liberals still have the clout to draw many to the streets.

Mursi Monday night made it clear that he was not to be moved by such protests, saying he stood by his decrees and would not back down.

This kind of political maneuvering is tantamount to playing with the future and the livelihood of over 80 million people.

Egypt’s revolution came about in no small part because of the economic and social desperation of its people. Mursi made it into power because of the desire of Egyptians to fight to improve their lives.

Yet in the two years since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, little has changed, let alone improved, in the economic and social situation in Egypt.

Instead his efforts have been spent attempting to accrue as much power as possible, despite the fact the population is split in its support for him.

Mursi’s attempts to sideline the political and economic concerns of vast swathes of the population suggest he may not have a full grasp of what it means to be a leader of a country.

Regardless of his own beliefs, or political ambitions, it should be obvious to Mursi that his tactics are risking damage that cannot later be offset. The political divides are being drawn stringently and on the streets.

The material damage of the current action is regrettable, and will cost the country unnecessarily. But it is the damage to the fabric of society that is of most concern, and is most likely to prove irreparable.

The country is now at a crossroads, and which way it goes is up to Mursi and those who back him and the government.

They can either reconsider this current mode of governance, which is leading to country into dire straits, or they can continue with their current arrogance. The latter move is likely to lead to the birth of a new dictator, while the former still offers the chance to create a healthy system of government.

Mursi’s strident statement Monday night makes it seem increasingly unlikely that he will waiver in his position any time soon. But the president owes it to the Egyptian people, whether they supported him at the ballot box or not, to make the right decision.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 27, 2012, on page 7.




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