On Thursday night, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi addressed his country on national television, ostensibly to calm the violence from days of protests against his recent power-expanding decree and the draft constitution passed by his Islamist supporters in the legislature. His speech wasn't very conciliatory, however — he vowed to press on with a Dec. 15 referendum on the constitution and said the protesters had been armed and infiltrated by a "fifth column" of loyalists to deposed President Hosni Mubarak — and the protests just escalated. A crowd of demonstrators broke into the Cairo headquarters of the Morsi-aligned Muslim Brotherhood and set fire to the building. President Obama called Morsi Thursday to express "deep concern" about the violence between opposition protesters and Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood supporters — at least six people have died so far, and the presidential palace is surrounded by barbed wire, tanks, and soldiers from the elite presidential guard. On top of that, Morsi's administration has been rocked by several high-profile resignations, including Zaghoul el-Balshi, the head of the commission overseeing the referendum, who said he "will not participate in a referendum that spills Egyptian blood." Is Morsi presiding over the unraveling of Egypt's fledgling democracy?
Morsi is stumbling toward autocracy: "The revolution in Egypt is in danger of being lost in a spasm of violence, power grabs, and bad judgments," says The New York Times in an editorial. And without question, it was "Morsi's dictatorial edict placing himself above the law last month that ignited this crisis." Most of his secular and Coptic Christian opponents just want the "pluralistic society" that seemed possible after Mubarak fell. Morsi must end this "dangerous and self-defeating confrontation" by rescinding his decree and delaying the referendum.
Democracy may be in trouble, but Morsi isn't: Judging by his fiery televised speech, Morsi is confident he will win without compromising, say Stephanie McCrummen and Abigail Hauslohner in The Washington Post. And he's probably right, given "his newfound friendship with Egypt's vaunted, wealthy, U.S.-supplied military." The fact that the military stepped up to protect him speaks volumes, but it isn't too surprising: The constitution Morsi is pushing so hard to ratify "enshrines the military's vast powers and autonomy to an unprecedented degree."
"Egypt's Morsi calls for 'national dialogue' but holds firm on referendum"
Egypt won't stand for another dictator: The most striking thing about Morsi's dishonest, paranoid address is how similar it was to Mubarak's final speeches, says Joseph Mayton at Al Arabiya. That shows just how tone-deaf and isolated the new president has so quickly become . "When we look back on this speech, in many ways it will be the half-hour that nailed the coffin closed. There is no coming back from this." Morsi has failed to listen to the people, and "Egyptians have had enough of dictatorship." They want him out.
"In Egypt, Brotherhood takes from Mubarak playbook"
The stakes are high not just for Egypt, but also for the Middle East: Certainly, "Egypt stands at an important crossroads," says The Times of India in an editorial. Morsi can save his government, and Egypt's fledgling democracy, if he chooses to "reach out across the political spectrum and foster an environment of reconciliation and bipartisanship to draft Egypt's new constitution," representing "all stakeholders in Egyptian society." The stakes are huge for Egypt, which can still become a secular, inclusive "economic dynamo" like Turkey. But what happens in the most populous Arab nation will affect the fate of the entire Middle East as well.
"As Morsi tries to ram through an Islamist constitution, Egypt's fate hangs in the balance"