Mohammed Morsi is Egypt’s first civilian president and the first chosen by universal suffrage in an election held last June. But his recent declaration that he is in effect above the law puts him another category, that of would-be dictator. As one of his democratic opponents has said, he may seek to become Egypt’s newest pharaoh.
Mr. Morsi’s anti-democratic stance, unless changed, should cause the United States to review and reduce its aid programs to Egypt as a show of support for the pro-democracy movement in Egypt.
Mr. Morsi won the presidency because his democratic rivals were divided. But his power-grab has united them.
Huge protests Tuesday in Cairo demonstrated the dismay of the pro-democracy forces that last year overthrew the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. Although the president has tried to mollify Egypt’s outraged judiciary by promising to limit the scope of his immunity, he has refused to withdraw the declaration.
His stance cannot go unchallenged by the United States.
Ever since the Camp David Accords in 1978, the United States has looked on Egypt’s government as a guarantor of peace with Israel, and has supplied it many tens of billions of dollars in economic and military aid. Egypt has been one of this nation’s most favored allies in terms of aid. We were willing to overlook Mr. Mubarak’s dictatorial reign as long has he kept his promises regarding Israel.
But that all changed during the Arab Spring, with its demands for democracy and the resulting overthrow of Mr. Mubarak. The United States can best realize its interests in the Middle East by supporting real democratic reform.
Major aid to Egypt could continue to be justified if Egypt takes a democratic path. But it would be wrong to subsidize a government that not only suppresses democracy but appears to challenge the longstanding Israel-Egypt peace accords.
Mr. Morsi is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks to place Egypt under Sharia law and has said the Camp David Accords should be altered. He holds an advanced degree in engineering from the University of Southern California and taught in a California state college. But his opinion of the United States does not appear to have been positive; he once described the official accounts of 9/11 as “insulting.”
It has become all too clear in recent days that his exposure to American democracy is no guarantee of emulation.
If President Morsi does not yield to democratic demands among his own electorate, the sooner the U.S. government puts a stick in his spokes, the better.