The tragedy in Egypt is a warning to Americans—imperious executive power is a threat to liberty everywhere.
In much of the Middle East, citizens are sharply divided between advocates of modernism and those who embrace strict interpretations of Islam and favor a theocratic order; western political leaders seem unable to grasp several fundamental realities.
Other than the oil-exporting states, Arab nations have little to sell the world.
Notably, Egypt can’t compete with Asia in manufacturing and its universities simply don’t produce enough good engineers to compete in high-tech and services. Liberal democracies, without persistent Western aid, can’t deliver the prosperity and opportunities for young people necessary to ensure political stability.
Many Arabs either don’t grasp or care that a theocratic order sentences them to an impoverished medieval existence.
To become president, Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, defeated the prime minister of deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's government by a slim margin of 51.7. to 48.3 percent—not much different than Obama’s electoral margins and granting as much mandate to act.
Frustrated by a divided legislature and unsympathetic courts, Morsi sought to ignore the former and assert supremacy over the latter and govern through executive order. That’s foul in most westerners’ book until one examines Obama’s record.
Declaring “elections have consequences,” he sought federal command and control over one-sixth of the U.S. economy—health care. When he lacked public support—as expressed in polls, town meetings and a Massachusetts special Senate election—and could not muster enough support in the Senate, he dragooned a bill through Congress by legislative slight of hand.
When faced with the fact that ObamaCare’s fine on citizens for not purchasing health insurance might not be unconstitutional, he publically sought to intimidate the chief justice of the Supreme Court at his State of the Union address.
Reading the contorted language and maddening reasoning of the Justice’s decision upholding the law, it is clear Obama managed to put himself above both the legislature and the courts, even if with better optics than did Morsi.
Surely, ObamaCare is not of the consequence of Morsi’s constitutional plans for Egypt, however, consider the sins against democracy that have followed.
Through lieutenants, such as assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin and the head of the IRS workers union, he has used the IRS to target Americans for persecution and ruin who participate in conservative civic groups.
Through the Justice Department, he has rifled the phone records and emails of Associated Press reporters and a Fox News correspondent.
His National Security Agency has grasped such sweeping surveillance power through secret courts that even European governments are screaming about his hubris and overreach.
Obama can’t get through Congress unneeded and expensive curbs on CO2 emissions—new technologies and market forces are already driving those down quickly—so he is seizing control of the activities of electric utilities through executive orders.
Slowly and insidiously these actions intimidate critics, marginalize Congress and the courts, and ensure political victories for American “progressives” over the luddites of the right he condescendingly characterizes as clinging to guns and bibles.
These parallels between Egypt and America are only dismissed at the peril of liberty.
Americans have always had free press and free association to lay bare the pious agendas of self-appointed prophets.
But now the powers abused by an unaccountable IRS, insular Justice Department and stealth NSA to serve a president convinced of the perfection of his ideas is as much a threat to liberty as any religious zealot in Cairo.
Peter Morici served as Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission from 1993 to 1995. He is an economist and professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland.