Anti-Morsy forces gather for more confrontations
CAIRO — A deeply polarized Egypt seems set for another showdown days after President Mohamed Morsy decreed himself above judicial review.
Foes and backers of Morsy, a former official of the Islamic-oriented Muslim Brotherhood, had called for widespread protests on Tuesday. But the Brotherhood has canceled its demonstration, saying it wanted to avoid a confrontation.
Anti-Morsy forces have erected tents and a stage in Cairo's Tahrir Square, ground zero for the 2011 uprising that replaced dictator Hosni Mubarak with the Brotherhood. They vow to remain until Morsy reverses his power-grab.
Morsy's decree on Thursday stunned Egyptians and sparked days of huge, bloody protests around the country. At least two teenagers died, and scores have been wounded; protesters torched 13 Brotherhood offices here and in other cities.
The impact has moved beyond street battles: Egypt's stock market fell to its third lowest close on “Black Sunday,” and at least six of Morsy's advisers have resigned. Once-fractured opposition parties have united, and Egypt's judiciary announced an unprecedented strike.
Outraged opponents are calling Morsy “the new Pharaoh” and “Morsilini,” a reference to World War II-era Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
Surprised by the furor, Morsy's office has said his decree is needed to punish “those responsible for corruption” and to “preserve the rights of the martyrs” of the 2011 revolution.
It reiterated the “temporary nature” of his new power — including control over all three branches of government — and insisted it is “not meant to concentrate powers.”
In Tahrir Square, where protesters erected a small “Welcome to Morsistan” sign, little trust in Morsy could be found on Monday.
“He wants to erase the revolution to become a dictator,” said Ramz Hassen, 28. “In this temporary time, he could make the most dangerous decisions.”
Just days ago, Morsy enjoyed international stature. He won praise from world leaders — including the Obama administration — for helping to broker a shaky cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the Brotherhood's Palestinian offshoot that rules Gaza.
The International Monetary Fund announced the preliminary signing of a $4.8 billion loan that should encourage international aid for cash-starved, economically unstable Egypt.
Yet Morsy clearly overestimated his domestic support when issuing his decree.
A back-up presidential candidate of the Brotherhood, he won office in June by a razor-thin margin against a candidate who served the widely reviled Mubarak.
Secularists, liberals, minorities and leftists feel a high degree of antipathy toward the Brotherhood and its allies, such as the ultra-Islamist Salafis, who are clamoring for Egypt to be ruled by Shariah, or Islamic law.
Many Egyptians welcomed Morsy as their first democratically elected civilian president but are dismayed by his poor performance. The country is beset with a collapsed economy, worsening crime and traffic, rising security concerns and sectarian violence.
Dina Zakaria, spokeswoman for the Brotherhood's political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, said Morsy had a “bad experience with our Supreme Constitutional Court who took away our democratically elected parliament.”
The Brotherhood and its Salafi partners won more than three-fourths of parliamentary seats in January, but the court dissolved the lower house over election irregularities.
Zakaria said Morsy feared the court would dissolve the upper house and the Islamist-dominated assembly writing Egypt's next constitution.
Many top judges are Mubarak-era appointees, accused of bungling trials of former regime officials. Despite public discontent with those judges and with the nation's top prosecutor, many Egyptians disapprove of Morsy's decision to ignore the judiciary and replace the prosecutor with his own appointee.
Some Egyptians had hoped Morsy would make the constitutional assembly more representative of Egypt's many factions. Instead, one-third of its members — mostly liberals — have resigned, citing Islamist efforts to enshrine Islamic law.
“Morsy did this for the sake of stability of this country and to face corruption,” Zakaria said. “He is very keen to end this transition.”
Protesters in Tahrir said they have heard such language before — from the previous dictator.
“Mubarak also said, ‘It is either me or chaos,' ” said journalist Wael Al Qadi, 25, standing among the demonstrators.
“Egypt is in serious need of judicial reform,” said Sara Leah Whitson, Middle East and North African director of Human Rights Watch, “but decreeing that the president rule by fiat is no way to achieve it.
“Egypt's president now has more power than last year's military rulers, who used their position to violate human rights. And President Morsy has exempted himself from any independent judicial review.”
Freedom and Justice Party spokesman Nader Omran said Morsy is unlikely to change his decree: “He may add some addendums to explain that it's a limited time and limited authorities.”
That may change, however, if the unrest continues.
So far, anti-Morsy activists show no sign of backing down.
“We will continue the revolution,” said activist Mary Daniel in Tahrir Square on Monday. “The revolution is all over Egypt.”
Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at email@example.com.