Morsi's mess: Egyptian president has made mistakes

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The importance of a smooth democratization process being carried out in Egypt remains great, both for the model it sets for other countries in the region in the Arab Spring and for the anchoring role Egypt must continue to play in preserving possibilities of achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

In that light the pickle that newly elected president Mohammed Morsi appears to have got himself into as he seeks to formalize Egypt's new democracy through the writing and achieving public acceptance of a constitution is disturbing, if not alarming.

Egypt is a country where the military has ruled in effect from 1953 to 2012, when Mr. Morsi became president. Now there's the necessity to have tanks deployed in front of the president's residence. Public order in the capital, Cairo, is just barely maintained, with pitched battles between crowds and the police and fires set at political party offices, including Mr. Morsi's own Islamic Brotherhood. He -- or whoever is calling the shots --- has made some mistakes. Giving himself extraordinary, superjudicial powers until the constitution is in place could be argued both ways, but some of the Egyptian opposition found the measure provocative, dictatorial and an excuse for demonstrations.

Letting the opposition to the Islamists, representatives of the more secular forces in Egypt, get away with walking out of the constitutional drafting process was also a mistake. Mr. Morsi and his party may have had to make compromises to keep them in the room, but he should have done so. Now they are in the streets, at least nominally unified against him as the National Salvation Front.

It was also probably a mistake to set the popular referendum on the controversial constitution for as soon as Dec. 16. The original thought had been to deliver it to the people in February. This one can be fixed easily. Reopen the process of drafting the constitution and do whatever is necessary to broaden participation in the process, in quest of long-term broader acceptance of it. Then re-set the referendum date.

That doesn't mean that the constitution-building process should be endless. But if such documents are to serve as the basis for a solid democracy, a lot of thought and consensus needs to go into them. The U.S. Constitution didn't go into effect until 1789, 13 years after U.S. independence. It is still accessible to amendment, 223 years later.

And fix the political situation in Egypt so that it is not necessary to use tanks to stay in power. U.S. President Barack Obama is apparently counseling Mr. Morsi through this crisis by phone. He might try some of these points to help keep Egyptian democratization on the rails. America has a big stake in it.

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