In the latest round of Egypt’s current crisis — once again pitting Islamists against non-Islamists demonstrators gathered at the presidential palace in Cairo to protest President Mohamed Morsi’s stunning decision to claim authoritarian, albeit temporary powers and his subsequent moves to rush through a controversial constitution. In a grim reminder of the country’s precarious state, police clashed with protesters and fired tear gas.
But this isn’t really about Morsi and his surprise decree — though to be sure, parts of the decree employ language straight out of Orwell and seem almost designed to provoke and polarize. However, neither the decree nor the draft constitution are quite as bad as Morsi’s opponents insisted. The opposition’s sometimes bizarre comparisons to Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, the 1933 Enabling Act, and the French Revolution suggest a legitimate fury (and an intriguing fascination with fascism), but make little sense as historic analogies.
Morsi could have read his Friday shopping list on national television, and it might have made little difference. The decree, after all, was only the latest in what Morsi’s opponents see as a long list of abuses. Egypt’s "original" revolutionaries are one such group that blast the Brotherhood’s compromises small and large with the old state bureaucracy, lamenting how their revolution was sacrificed on the altar of expediency and gradualism. And it is true that the Brotherhood-appointed leaders of the Ministry of the Interior, the military, and the intelligence apparatus include men who were complicit in some of the worst human rights abuses of the Hosni Mubarak era — and have gone unpunished to this day.