Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi may be backing down a bit on his attempt to seize dictatorial powers. The Muslim Brotherhood leader agreed to a limited compromise on his assertion of supremacy over the courts in which he would allow the judiciary to exercise review over his edits. This development testifies to the strength of the protests against Morsi’s attempt to acquire as much power as Hosni Mubarak had during his reign in Cairo. But even if Morsi’s putsch is contained for the moment, there is little doubt that he is determined to neutralize any possible competition for control over the country. This is, by any objective measure, a real defeat for an Obama administration that has publicly embraced Morsi and the Brotherhood and publicly disparaged his authoritarian predecessor. It is especially embarrassing since just last week President Obama was heaping praise on Morsi for his role in brokering a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, even though it was the Egyptian’s support for Hamas that helped foment the crisis.
But perhaps the most telling thing about the way Egypt is heading back down the road to dictatorship is the relative silence from Morsi’s new buddy in the White House and the State Department. At today’s White House press briefing, spokesman Jay Carney stayed clear of anything that could possibly be considered criticism of Morsi or the Brotherhood’s power grab, saying merely: “We have some concerns about the decisions and declarations that were announced on November 22.” Carney also denied that the president felt “betrayed” by the way Morsi used Washington’s fulsome praise for him as a platform from which he sought to expand his ability to rule by fiat. Given the way the administration dumped Mubarak and then publicly scolded and threatened the Egyptian military when it tried to act as a brake on the Brotherhood’s drive for hegemony, the White House’s unwillingness to say anything more than that speaks volumes about the way Morsi is viewed in Washington these days.