by Richard Engel, NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent
TAHRIR SQUARE, CAIRO — This was the place where the revolution began: the roundish square where Egyptians celebrated Mubarak’s fall.
This is where they are shouting on bullhorns again, outraged because they say the Muslim Brotherhood has stolen the revolution and is railroading though a constitution that could lock in Muslim Brotherhood rule for 50 years, bringing more Islamic law. They cry — not against Islam — but that an extremist interpretation is being forced down their throats by a president who critics say is acting every part the tyrant.
This is also a warning, they claim, of what may happen across the Middle East. The era of the Muslim Brotherhood appears to have arrived. President Obama has hailed the Brotherhood’s President Mohammed Morsi as a pragmatist who helped end the Gaza crisis. Egyptians here think the Brotherhood has conned Washington, just like it conned them.
“President Obama is supporting a terrorist,” a man told me amid chants of “Leave! Leave!” in Tahrir Square and “Down, down with the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader.” Before, it was “Down, down with Mubarak.”
Morsi’s decree divides Egypt
Egypt was torn in half just over a week ago when Morsi made himself more powerful than Mubarak ever was, and the kings before him. Morsi declared himself above judicial oversight, his decisions final and unassailable. He made himself, according to critics, a new pharaoh on the Nile. Imagine if, after five months in office, an American president announced that he could pass any law he pleased regardless of Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court. Imagine if he said his decisions were final and inspired by God.
Morsi last night apologized for the power grab and said he didn’t want the extra authorities, but that they were necessary for the good of the people and to safeguard the revolution. Dictators always say stuff like that. Burn down the village to save it.
At first Egyptians were shocked that Morsi would make such an obvious and, according to Egyptian judges, blatantly illegal move. It’s clear now, as some analysts have long feared, that the brotherhood is making sure it doesn’t lose power again by taking control of Egypt’s constitution. The Brotherhood wants to write the rules of the game. Now they’ve done that too.