Critics have labeled it a Reichstag fire moment, a reference to when Hitler consolidated power in Germany. Admirers describe it as a brave and necessary, albeit temporary, move to prevent a drift towards chaos. In either case Muhammad Morsi, Egypt’s recently elected president, has pitched his country into a crisis as dire as any since the uprising in January 2011 that ended six decades of military-backed dictatorship. Seeking to break a deadlock with secular opponents, he issued a shock decree on November 22nd granting himself sweeping new powers. The move has left Egypt starkly and dangerously polarised. Whether Mr Morsi succeeds, and whether this turns out well or disastrously for Egypt, remains to be seen.
Mr Morsi has had a rough ride since his wafer-thin election victory last June. The president’s Freedom and Justice Party, a snazzier-clothed clone of the dowdy Muslim Brotherhood to which he owes his real allegiance, had pumped his candidacy with promises of sweeping improvements to government services during his first hundred days. This was to be followed by the launch of a so-called Renaissance Project, touted as a grand design formulated by Brotherhood experts to yank Egypt into prosperity.
Yet it took the gruff, folksy Mr Morsi six weeks just to name a cabinet, which has since been widely dismissed as lame, bland and ineffective. Not only has there been no discernible uplift to living standards. Mr Morsi’s brief administration has been plagued by reminders of creaking government such as power cuts, worse-than-ever traffic jams, accumulating piles of rubbish, and public sector strikes including one by doctors protesting appalling hospital conditions.