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Morsi Assumes Absolute Power

While I’m not an expert on Egyptian politics, I can’t help speculate on what Pres. Morsi’s assumption of absolute powers may mean for his country’s relations with Israel and the U.S.   Especially in light of the critical role he played in negotiating and jawboning Hamas for the ceasefire that ultimately ended the war, and the close working relationship he developed with Pres. Obama.

morsi meshal

Mohammed Morsi welcomes Hamas’ Khaled Meshal (AP)

Morsi took power supposedly in order to avoid interference from a court system that was largely a holdover from the Mubarak era, and which supposedly overturned many efforts at reform since the Revolution.  He promised that he would relinquish his powers once a new constitution was written.  But history is littered with similar promises of those who went on to become tyrants.  It’s instructive that many Egyptian liberals and human rights activists have excoriated Morsi’s move and find nothing redemptive or justified in it.

So let’s assume that Morsi does become an Egyptian strongman in the Mubarak mold, but with Muslim Brotherhood credentials.  To be clear, I’m not presuming this WILL happen.  Only what could be the result if it did.  It seems that such a leader becomes even more of a danger to Israel than Morsi as leader of a constitutional government.  Without checks and balances, he needs only to listen to his own constituency and they’re far less sympathetic to Israel than the average Egyptian.

Yes, he will still need to consider his relations with the U.S. and the foreign aid it dispenses.  That will restrain him to a degree.  So Egypt’s relations with Israel will remain a balancing act.  But it seems to me that Egypt under a Morsi-strongman model becomes far more dangerous to Israel’s domination of the region.  For example, it becomes possible to imagine that Egypt might fully open its border with Gaza and possibly permit arms to flow through it to Hamas.  He could abrogate the Sinai Treaty or demand it be re-negotiated.  Again, I’m not saying this will happen.  But it could.

If Israel’s leaders were smart (which again, they aren’t) they’d recognize that the Middle East is becoming a more dangerous place for them by the day.  Best to sue for peace and get the best deal possible before things get worse.  Imagine for example, a Muslim Brotherhood style government coming to power in Syria. Then Israel moves from having two strongmen who it bought off in Egypt and Syria, to having hostile forces controlling two of the major frontline states.  Jordan, which has been a bulwark of stability in relation to Israel is also facing upheaval with calls to replace King Abdullah.  What about if Israel loses yet another Arab puppet ruler on its doorstep?

These are questions which, if any Israeli leader is contemplating, they’re certainly contemplating based on faulty assumptions which will permit further faulty judgments and policies in future.  The tragedy of latter-day Israel.

{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Joel November 23, 2012, 3:18 AM

    Islamism.’ One man, one vote, one time’.

  • Bob November 23, 2012, 4:19 AM

    The characterization of “absolute power” may be a bit too… absolutist. In any case, it is an adjective which should be measured according to the realities of the decree itself. At this point, Juan Cole has the best summary of what Morsi’s new decree really means:


  • almabu November 23, 2012, 4:35 AM

    As far as I can see, none of the western interventions (regime changes) in the Middle East changed something to the better?
    Question: If Egypt open border-crossings to Gaza, would’nt that made the Israeli sea-blockade of Gaza senseless? If so, was it part of the ceasefire-agreement or not? Could’nt find it in the german press…

    • Richard Silverstein November 23, 2012, 12:57 PM

      I’ve quoted the agreement in a post of a few nights ago. It talks about relieving the siege mostly in terms of Israeli actions.

  • bar_kochba132 November 23, 2012, 5:52 AM

    If your scenario is correct and Egypt becomes much more hostile to Israel, then what possible reason would the Palestinians have to make peace with Israel, since they could now look for help, possibly military or other, from Egypt, which they didn’t get from Mubarak, figuring that time is now working more in their favor?

    • Richard Silverstein November 23, 2012, 12:56 PM

      Precisely why Israel should make a deal now. Instead of worrying so much whether the Palestinians will or won’t be willing to make a deal, you’d do better to worry about why your own government refuses to do now what you’re complaining the Palestinians won’t be prepared to do sometime in the future.

  • mary November 23, 2012, 6:26 AM

    I personally find Morsi utterly unpredictable, and Egyptian politics a mixture of comedy and tragedy. If Morsi thought his recent success at brokering the ceasefire would shield him from opprobrium over this latest stunt, he sadly misread the amount of support he’s got.

    I think he is trying to get rid of the felool but becoming a dictator just ain’t the way it should be done. Democracy should not allow a leader to take powers for himself as he wishes. (Someone also should explain this to Obama.)

    Hard to believe we’ll be seeing Mubarak tried again. I see no sense in this. I just wonder why Morsi seems more intent on punishing the Brotherhood’s enemies than on taking care of the very serious problems Egypt faces.

  • Siusaidh November 23, 2012, 8:28 AM

    Not for nothing was Britain instrumental in the original formation of the Muslim Brothers. This is well-covered in Chapter 2 of Robert Dreyfuss’s, Devil’s Game: How the US helped unleash fundamentalist Islam (2005). Those in charge cannot solve anything real for the Egypian poor and working people, but they sure can play populist games by going after Mukarak again, etc. etc. Let’s see who has learned the essential lessons about this ‘revolution’.

    • mary November 23, 2012, 9:40 AM

      Not sure what you’re saying about Britain. But one thing you are missing is that the Brotherhood did not instigate or participate in the revolution. It was the secular liberals who are responsible for that, and the Brotherhood did not participate in any attempts to oust Mubarak but came to the game afterwards.

  • pabelmont November 23, 2012, 9:36 AM

    When Israel has nukes and a vastly powerful “conventional” army (when did drones and cyber-virusy become “conventional”?), no Syria or Lebanon or Egypt (or Iran) can dare to attack her in a major way, although small (non-existential) attacks would be hard on Israel which has trained up its people to think that any attack at all (however small) is an enormity, something worth crying over and calling out “Holocaust” and other manifestations of “my life is worth thousands of their lives” and other presumably (modern?) Jewish ethical pronouncements.

    OTOH, the immediately past debacle seems to show [1] Iron Dome knocks down most rockets (at least it does when few are fired at one time) at high cost (as compared with the cost of home-made rockets), [2] a few missiles get through but at present Gaza doesn’t have tools to aim them (closely, narrowly) at military targets but there may be a bit of improvement in the imported rockets, and [3] a few rockets landing in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem persuades Israel that Gazan responses to its stupid and evil fish-in-a-barrel turkey-shoots are sufficiently dangerous to Israel that its worth making some sort of peace.

    As to Morsi, I have no idea where all this is going, but I fail to see how Egypt can be a danger to Israel. Look at 1956, 1967, 1973. Israel is stronger today than then. Perhaps the greatest danger for Israel is that Morsi will listen to the Egyptian “street” and amplify its voice internationally and among Arab states in particular.

    I can imagine Morsi voting for Palestinian membership in the UN (and of course for quasi membership) and even introducing a draft UNSC resolution calling for Israel to remove settlers, settlements, wall, on the (silly, old fashioned, nearly illicit grounds that they are present in OPTs illegally). Yes, I can imagine it, and Obama smiling to himself as he condemns it for AIPAC’s benefit.

  • mary November 24, 2012, 12:28 AM

    Egypt would not be a “danger” to Israel except within the sense that it is time for the occupation of Palestine to end. I don’t think Egypt alone could defeat Israel in an all-out war (of course, Egypt doesn’t have nuclear weapons, or does it have a “special relationship” with the US). But it will not take an all-out war to end this occupation.

    Morsi’s role will be to unite the region’s other countries (not necessarily all Arabs) and possibly beyond the region as well, to assert diplomatic pressure on Israel.

    That is, if he manages to stay in office.

    • dub November 28, 2012, 3:25 PM

      — ” it will not take an all-out war to end this occupation.”—

      what sort of war are you suggesting?

      You do recall that Egypt has waged war against Israel several times ?

      And you do recall that Egypt has not done very well?

      You do remember that Egypt had to ask for the return of Egyptian land that was lost because of the wars that they waged?

      • Richard Silverstein November 28, 2012, 7:08 PM

        You do realize it would only take a single Israeli defeat for Israel as we know it to go the way of all flesh??

        • dub November 28, 2012, 7:35 PM

          yes, I do realize that……. it’s one of the interesting things that Israel prevailed decisively in the war of independence ….and again in 67……and still didn’t seek the type of victory that Israel could expect had it lost…and that you suggest they still could expect should they lose…

          some silly folks prattle on as if they’ve never considered these things.

          • mary November 28, 2012, 11:42 PM

            Well, Dub, you must also consider that those who fought in 1948 and 1967 are probably a little long in the tooth to fight a war in 2013.

            And some folks prattle on as if they’ve never considered how Hizbullah certainly gave Israel a run for its money back in 2006, and that for all its weaponry, the current IOF has no experience in doing anything other than bombing the hell out of unarmed civilians.

            You forget one more thing – that except for the ubiquitous US (which was not seriously interested in waging war on Iran), Israel has no allies who would support it militarily, which makes going to war unilaterally so incredibly stupid that it takes one’s breath away.

  • rfjk November 24, 2012, 6:44 AM

    Autocratic or democratically elected leaders in the Arab/Muslim world of today must exercise power carefully or risk Mubarak’s fate. Morsi, however he turns, knows he cannot ignore the popular demands of his peoples without great risk.

    Autocracy, pre ‘Arab Spring’ style has been overturned in most Middle Eastern capitals and tenuously hanging on the vine where governments are rich enough to bribe their peoples. Clearly, a ‘new world order’ is arising in the M/E post the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

    It should be understood that revolutions are messy, long term affairs. The American revolution was a near run thing for nearly 40 years; 8 of war and another 30 + of economic chaos, grave political stasis, Indian and foreign wars and entanglements. An era of great uncertainty that did not ease until after 1814. And as for the French Revolution its popularly said its still to early to close the books on that affair.

    I believe the US battle command to invade Iraq on 19 March 2003 will prove an even greater ‘strategic disaster’ to Israel than to the US. The outcomes of massive US interventionism within and across the landscapes of the Arab world has not materialized as Zionists imagined and hoped it would. All the propaganda and the yapping of barking dogs cannot conceal the fact its been a down hill racer for Zionists with eyeballs plastered to windshields in horror and disbelief.

    “…Best to sue for peace and get the best deal possible before things get worse…”

    This is a brutal truth Israelis had best wake up to before its too late. They are in fact getting weaker not stronger, as Military power and threats of “breaking bones” have become the weakest of reeds in their quiver of intransigence. It was presumed that a great power like the US would have to force Israel off the path to destruction. That’s been proved false. At the end of the day the US will not save Israel. Israel must save Israel. For them its either 2 states or NO state. Its either all this or its all that.

  • dub November 30, 2012, 5:02 PM

    @ mary—- “And some folks prattle on as if they’ve never considered how Hizbullah certainly gave Israel a run for its money back in 2006”

    they did very well in holding off Israeli attacks against prepared positions…….aside from that, Lebanon was greatly damaged and Israel was not.

    should there be another round, with Hezbollah in control of the Lebanese government, you can expect that Israel will suffer more damage from Hezbollah’s rockets, and also expect that Hezbollah will fare much worse and lebanon will suffer even greater damage.

    hopefully, there will not be another round of fighting as it’ll benefit no one.

    • Richard Silverstein November 30, 2012, 6:34 PM

      Israel wasn’t damaged? Tell that to those living in the north whose forests were denuded by fires and those villages and cities in which people died & homes were destroyed.

      Hezbollah is not “in control of the Lebanese government.” It sits in a coalition in parliament in which it is not the majority party. But hey, why let facts get in your way?

      There certainly will be another round of fighting. In fact, many rounds. You might as well get ready. Maybe some day you’ll place blame where it belongs, on your own benighted leaders.

      • dub December 1, 2012, 3:25 PM

        [comment deleted for comment rule violation–comment is off-topic and it isn’t even clear what you’re referring to or refuting other than seeking to post an anti-Hezbollah diatribe]

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