Those who wish to remain optimistic about political developments in Egypt must today contend with a most ridiculous yet still serious development.
The new Prosecutor General, Talaat Ibrahim Abdallah, appointed just days ago by President Mohammed Morsi, has referred for investigation the following allegation: that former presidential candidates Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabbahi, Constitution Party leader Mohamed ElBaradei, Wafd Party president Al-Sayed al-Badawy and Judges Club head Ahmed al-Zend are all guilty of espionage and sedition.
The specific accusation is that
Moussa met with former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and agreed with her to fabricate internal crises, and that all of the politicians named in his complaint then met at the Wafd Party headquarters to implement the “Zionist plot.”
The new Egyptian government’s decision to treat such an accusation seriously telegraphs that, as in the Mubarak regime, investigations and prosecutions will be used to intimidate and silence political critics and opponents. It also suggests that any bizarre charge, any wild accusation, will be given credence so long as it contains the word "Israel" or the word "Zionist."
That this development comes in the midst of Egypt’s current crisis makes the actions of the Prosecutor General even worse, for it suggests that instead of seeking compromise the new Muslim Brotherhood rulers desire confrontation and wish to use the power of the state to crush non-Brotherhood leaders.
I’m not sure which is worse: the possibility that President Morsi is such a Brotherhood ideologue that he actually believes that Moussa and El Baradei would meet with Tzipi Livni and "fabricate internal crises," or the possibility that he knows the charge is ludicrous but approves its utilization against critics. Either way, it is another step away from democracy for Egypt.