The absence of strong U.S. opposition to Morsi’s assumption of almost total control over his country was itself rapidly becoming a political issue in Egypt on Monday. Opposition figures suggested that the United States was allowing Egypt’s first democratically elected leader to do what he wished domestically as long as he was a strong partner abroad in working toward a truce between Palestinians and Israelis.
U.S. officials said that they had a degree of trust in Morsi’s motives. Although the proclamations appeared undemocratic and thus could not win any overt American support, they were born of internal political problems that Egyptians must settle for themselves, said an Obama administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.
Negotiations on the Gaza conflict resumed Monday, but the rapid-fire domestic developments distracted from solidifying what remains a fragile truce.
The late-night explanation on Egyptian state television that Morsi’s powers would not be completely unlimited appeared to be the beginning of political negotiations, not an endpoint, experts said. Many in the opposition quickly said that in their view, little had changed. Morsi spokesman Yasser Ali did not amend the Thursday decrees; he simply said he was clarifying them.
An unusual alliance of liberal secular forces and defenders of the autocratic rule of former president Hosni Mubarak has emerged in recent days to fight Morsi’s decision to take on untrammeled power. The country’s judges association said Monday that the explanation had no legal force and that the group would continue to call for strikes among judges and prosecutors. Other political figures repeated calls to hold protests Tuesday. With political Islamists largely backing Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood ally, the edicts have quickly polarized the country along religious lines.
‘A slippery legal concept’
Analysts said Monday that the announcement that Morsi’s power may have some bounds did not necessarily have immediate practical consequences.
“It has to be politically worked out. It’s clearly a way for Morsi to preserve what he really wanted plus to save face,” said Nathan J. Brown, a professor of political science at George Washington University who is an expert on Egypt’s legal system.