Egyptian president must make real amends to end the unrest

These are dangerous times in Egypt.

I was in Cairo’s Tahrir Square last week for the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution that ended the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak.

On the square, the opposition demonstrators were shouting the same slogans that brought down Mubarak: “The people want the downfall of the regime.” I don’t think that Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, who was democratically elected only seven months ago, will suffer the same fate as Mubarak, whose rule was marked by corruption and nepotism.

But he has shown the same bullying streak, which has exacerbated, rather than lessened, the political tensions with the secular liberal opposition now grouped in a National Salvation Front. Washington, which is showing all the signs of continuing to back Morsi at any price, should now be leaning on him heavily to act like a statesman and make real concessions.

ADVERTISEMENT
First and foremost, he should signal his willingness to seek the amendment of the Islamist constitution, which he rammed through in a referendum approved by less than a third of Egyptian voters last month. As it stands, it has rightly aroused the ire of Egyptian women and significant minorities like the Copts. Yet so far he has shown no sign of offering real dialogue over the constitution, which is a purely Islamist document, lacking the consensus that such a basic law should have in any rule-based society.

Meanwhile, the opposition parties have behaved irresponsibly and have threatened to boycott parliamentary elections in a shortsighted move that may only fuel the political unrest.

Both sides are playing with fire because the situation now is not that of two years ago: Almost every Egyptian is armed — even heavily armed with weapons from Libya — thanks to the failure of police reform, which has left people scrambling to protect their families and property. No wonder the army chief is warning of the possible collapse of the state.

I used to think that Morsi should be given the benefit of the doubt, but not anymore. Look at his record: Every move he has taken has been ideological, rigid and autocratic. He was elected to be the president of all Egyptians; now he should behave as such.