Mursi decree a path to tyranny

HARARE - Egyptian President, Mohamed Mursi is not the first leader in Africa to come to power as a liberator and agent of change only to ape the overthrown system and become an oppressor or dictator himself.

Mursi, who was elected president on a Muslim Brotherhood ticket following the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship, issued a shocking decree last week giving himself sweeping, absolute powers.
The most controversial aspect of the decree, which has sparked fresh angry protests and unrest in the country is the declaration that decisions taken by the head of state may not be challenged.

This puts him above the law.

Mursi has defended the decree, which is no different from Mubarak’s dictatorial iron-fisted approach, by saying that it is a move to protect the revolution.

The new sweeping powers would be temporary and he would not use them inappropriately.

The people must simply trust him to do the right thing, he said.

But history and experience have shown that leaders who use appropriate absolute powers to themselves cannot be trusted not to abuse them.

The assumption of such  powers is the surest and fastest path to tyranny as the track records of Africa’s long-time authoritarian rulers has demonstrated.

When African countries gained independence from former colonisers beginning about 60 years ago, the resulting euphoria initially blinded the people to their leaders’ cruelty and selfishness until cult personalities and dictatorships were firmly embedded.

By the time the governed realised they were under more brutal systems than they had been under colonialism, it was too late.

By then, the “Big man” system, which former United Nations secretary general has blamed for creating dictators and autocrats on the continent was part of the political culture.

Annan cited Zimbabwe’s 88-year-old President Robert Mugabe as a product of this system under which errant leaders refuse to reform by blaming self-created problems such as the ruining of economies and impoverishment of their people on the continent’s colonial past.

 It may not be any consolation to long-suffering African populations but at least the love of power of these erstwhile liberation heroes increased over time.

As author and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Bertrand Russell once said; “In any autocratic regime, the holders of power become increasingly tyrannical with experience of the delights that power can afford.”

Mursi’s daring and blatant moves to install himself as a dictator at such lightning speed under the full gaze of the vigilant Egyptian people and the entire world is a shocking new twist.

He is supposed to represent a new generation of progressive leaders on the continent who, according to Annan, must be “more sensitive to democratic demands” as well as the pressure exerted on them by civil society to do the right thing.

The current political dispensation in Egypt was achieved after a hard fought revolution but Egyptians are not the only governed people in Africa having to say “not so fast” to “turncoat” leaders determined to amass as much power as possible in the shortest possible time.

He is not the only leader ready to do the opposite of what he previously purported to oppose.

In South Africa, Jacob Zuma ascended to power after the “recalling” by the ANC of Thabo Mbeki.

Mbeki, who had his own faults, was accused of many things including the charge that his administration was a “nascent dictatorship” that no longer listened to the people.

But before even completing his first term, Zuma does seem to be faring any better as the scandals associated with him suggest.

Details have begum emerging in the South African press of how he threw his weight around to blackmail prosecutors into dropping corruption charges against him.

Recently, according to reports in the South African press, Zuma made a call to parliament and the nation that he should be accepted  and respected simply because he is leading, never mind whether he is doing so democratically and with integrity.

 The implied, dangerous message in his demand for respect  “don’t scrutinise and criticise me”.

 He was reminded in one editorial comment that respect must be earned and not demanded.

Suggestions, which Zuma has not repudiated, are already being made by his political associates that South Africa needs “insult” laws favoured by dictators who can not tolerate criticism and dissent.

The same rapid reneging on positions held prior to coming into power was seen in Kenya a few years ago when after opposing Daniel Arap Moi’s 24-year rule Mwai Kibaki refused to relinquish office after failing to win a mandate for a second term.

The lesson the people of Africa have learnt the hard way is that dislodging long-ruling tyrants from power is an uphill battle that can spark civil wars and other upheavals.

The Egyptian people must nip the Mursi dictatorship in the bud.

Encouragingly,  strikes by the country’s judges and protests by ordinary Egyptians indicate that Mursi may have bitten off more than he can chew.

The demand for transparency and accountability is just too strong to be ignored.

America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson once said, “Free government is founded on jealousy and not in confidence. In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution.

Developments such as those in Egypt suggest however that additional precautions may be needed to keep leaders in check. - Mary Revesai

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