HERNDON, Va., Dec. 11 (UPI) -- The joke is told about a man asking a neighbor to check on his cat and elderly mother while he travels. Later, he called the neighbor to inquire about his cat. He was stunned when his neighbor simply said, "It died."
Getting over his initial shock, he told his neighbor he should have been more circumspect in delivering news of the cat's death. The man suggested the neighbor should have first explained the cat climbed on the roof and wouldn't come down; firemen came to rescue it; they carried it down; only to have the cat suddenly leap out of the fireman's arms to its death below.
With a sigh, the man then inquired about his mother, to which the neighbor responded, "She had climbed on to the roof ... "
The moral of the story: To blunt the full impact of bad news, it should be delivered piecemeal.
It is a lesson Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi ignored in delivering to his people the bad news of his Nov. 22 decree. Stripping them of constitutional rights, he gave himself full authority to legislate without governmental oversight, ostensibly until a mostly Islamist drafted constitution -- failing to protect the rights of minorities or the media -- is voted on and passed.
In the end, public protest forced him to rescind the decree.
In an instant, Morsi's decree had converted a fledgling democracy into a full-blown dictatorship with powers not even previous President Hosni Mubarak enjoyed during his nearly three-decade rule.
Morsi should have sought the advice of Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Vladimir Putin of Russia on how best to transition a democracy to a dictatorship. He would have learned tricks that enabled them to make that transition, avoiding the opposition Morsi encountered.
As oil revenues poured into Russia's state treasury -- improving the standard of living for the average citizen -- many failed to heed Putin's piecemeal grab for power.
Lost within their euphoria was Putin's effort to slowly increase his power and decrease theirs. Bit by bit he began taking away from them rights that democracy had given.
Governors were no longer elected but appointed by Putin (although this changed after Putin reaped the benefit of his own men in positions of power). Killings of anti-Putin journalists went unsolved.
As his constitutionally limited term in office was ending, Putin maneuvered his prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, into office while intimidating opponents. When Medvedev won election as president, he immediately appointed Putin to replace him as prime minister -- obviously in a prearranged deal allowing Putin to retain power.
Corruption flourished in Russia as Putin supporters were allowed to benefit from their support. Constitutional amendments were passed to enable Putin to serve again as president for a longer term.
The day Medvedev stepped down as president following Putin's re-election, President Putin reappointed him prime minister. Human rights were restricted by direct prohibition or imposing extraordinarily high fines for violations.
The Russian people effectively fell asleep at the wheel while Putin drove the country back toward Soviet dictatorship. His nostalgia for those "good old days" was evident by Putin's outlandish claim the collapse of the Soviet Union was one of the greatest disasters of the 20th century!
Only now do the Russian people seem to be waking up to what they have allowed to be done to them.
In Venezuela, Chavez has slowly dismantled his country's democratic engine. Early in his "rule," he created the false perception an outside threat existed, rallying the public's nationalistic spirit by claiming a danger existed of a future invasion by the United States.
He accused the United States of pressing regional influence and, ludicrously, using subliminal messaging to do so.
He bought Russian arms to defend against an invasion never to come.
Ironically, he allied himself with Islamic extremists, opening doors to an ilk who, absent a U.S. presence in the world, would be directing their violence against Venezuelans as Islamic non-believers.
All the while he has been chipping away at the freedoms of his people, silencing most critics as he transitioned Venezuelan democracy to a dictatorship.
Again, high oil revenues helped Chavez "buy" votes in subsequent elections for president.
Morsi found himself a "wannabe" dictator lacking the financial assets to lull his people into a similar euphoric state. The economy has suffered immensely due to the Arab Spring turmoil. To Egyptians, daily survival is paramount so they remained sensitive to any governmental change -- especially one replacing democracy with a dictatorship overnight, whether temporary or not.
While the move was a calculated risk, it was one Morsi believed he could achieve. Recent successes had given him confidence -- i.e., subordinating military influence to that of the president, dismissing senior generals, helping to negotiate a cease-fire to stop recent hostilities between Israel and Hamas, etc.
Those actions had gained Morsi domestic and international acclaim. He knew the Muslim Brotherhood supported him. He also knew he had the military's support as the army stood to gain unprecedented powers under the constitution.
Interestingly, the military "dragon" Morsi had earlier slain would be resurrected -- even more powerful -- under the new constitution. Having repressed the Muslim Brotherhood under Mubarak, the army would now defend it under Morsi.
But Morsi's failure to heed Putin's and Chavez's success in moving more slowly by way of "a thousand cuts" -- i.e., "creeping normalcy" -- instead opting to do it with one major negative change raised the ire of protesters who then took to the streets to stop Egypt's march toward an Orwellian society.
Rescinding the decree, Morsi may simply opt to pursue the Putin/Chavez approach later. It will take time to determine whether, ultimately, democracy is dead or, politically, Morsi is by having climbed on to the roof.
(James. G. Zumwalt, a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer, is author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will -- Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields," "Living the Juche Lie -- North Korea's Kim Dynasty" and "Doomsday: Iran -- The Clock is Ticking.")
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)