Is Morsi's u-turn on emergency powers too little, too late?

Mohamed Morsi announced a u-turn on emergency powers he previously deemed essential. Photo: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

In renouncing emergency powers he deemed essential just two weeks ago, Mohamed Morsi is trying to undo some of the damage he has inflicted on his own presidency, on Egypt and its troubled transition to democracy.

It remains to be seen whether his retreat is too little and too late in the day.

Against a backdrop of mass protest and deepening division, rarely can a leader have gone from hero to zero so swiftly.

On the international stage, Morsi trod with confidence and vigour.

One moment, he was in Tehran, standing up to the Iranians over Syria, the next, brokering a peace deal between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

A soldier stands next to an Israeli flag near the border with the Gaza Strip. Credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

In doing so he won widespread respect and gratitude around the world.

Perhaps that bred over-confidence. For in assuming sweeping powers at home and ordering a snap referendum on a rushed constitution he has made near fatal miscalculations.

He seemed to forget he won the Presidential election by a whisker, that a very large number of Egyptians reject an Islamist vision for their nation.

And they certainly did not oust Hosni Mubarak only to get another dictator; a Pharaoh with a beard, I’ve heard him called.

Mohamed Morsi has been called a Pharaoh with a beard. Credit: Reuters

So Morsi has achieved the rare feat of uniting a fractured opposition.

But they too need to be beware of Morsi’s mistake; and take care they too do not overplay their hand.

If they reject the chance for negotiations now, then Egypt seems destined for more protest with the real danger of escalating violence.

The military, though much weakened, remains a potent force. It has yet to come down on either side. But its warnings should not be taken lightly.

Yesterday, the army warned that anything other than dialogue now will force Egypt in a "dark tunnel with disastrous consequences; something that we won’t allow."

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