Egypt's Morsy expands powers
CAIRO — Egypt's Islamist president unilaterally decreed greater authorities for himself on Thursday and effectively neutralized a judiciary system that had emerged as a key opponent by declaring that the courts are barred from challenging his decisions.
Riding high on U.S. and international praise for mediating a Gaza cease-fire, Mohamed Morsy put himself above oversight and gave protection to the Islamist-led assembly writing a new constitution from a looming threat of dissolution by court order.
But the move is likely to fuel growing public anger that he and his Muslim Brotherhood are seizing too much power.
In what was interpreted by rights activists as a de facto declaration of emergency law, one of Morsy's decrees gave him the power to take “due measures and steps” to deal with any “threat” to the revolution, national unity and safety or anything that obstructs the work of state institutions.
Morsy framed his decisions as necessary to protect the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago and to cement the nation's transition to democratic rule. Many activists, including opponents of the Brotherhood, criticize the judiciary as packed with judges and prosecutors sympathetic to Mubarak. Brotherhood supporters accuse the courts of trying to block their agenda.
“He had to act to save the country and protect the course of the revolution,” said one of Morsy's aides, Pakinam al-Sharqawi. “It is a major stage in the process of completing the January 25th revolution,” she said, alluding to the starting day of last year's uprising against Mubarak.
In a nod to revolutionary sentiment, Morsy ordered the retrial of Mubarak and top aides on charges of killing protesters during the uprising. He also began a “protection of the revolution” judicial body to swiftly carry out the prosecutions. But he did not order retrials for lower-level police acquitted of such killings — another widespread popular demand that would disillusion the security forces if carried out.
Liberal politicians immediately criticized the decrees as dictatorial and destined to divide a nation reeling from months of turmoil following Mubarak's ouster. Some said they exceeded the powers once enjoyed by Mubarak.
“Morsy today usurped all state powers & appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh,” pro-reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on Twitter. “A major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences.”
Opponents of Morsy and Brotherhood supporters are planning large rival protests in Cairo on Friday, raising the likelihood of clashes.
Thousands from the rival camps were out on the streets of Cairo late Thursday in an increasingly charged atmosphere.
A crowd of Brotherhood supporters massed outside the Supreme Court building and offices of the prosecutor general — whom Morsy removed in Thursday's edict. They chanted slogans for “the cleansing of the judiciary,” shouting, “the people support the president's decisions.” Leading Brotherhood member Mohammed el-Beltagi, attending the rally, singled out several critics of Morsy from among the ranks of the judiciary for criticism.
Meanwhile, blocks away near Tahrir Square, hundreds of demonstrators held a fourth consecutive day of protests against Morsy and the Brotherhood. “Brotherhood is banned from entry,” declared a large banner at the protest.
Wael Ghonim, an icon of the anti-Mubarak uprising, rejected Morsy's decisions, arguing the president could have protected the revolution without concentrating so much power in his hands.
“The revolution was not staged in search for a benign dictator, there is a difference between revolutionary decisions and dictatorial decisions. God is the only one whose decisions are not questioned.”
The Egyptian leader decreed that all decisions he has made since taking office in June, and until a new constitution is adopted and a new parliament is elected, cannot be appealed in court or by any other authority. Parliamentary elections are not likely before spring.
The decree barred the courts from dissolving the controversy-plagued assembly writing the constitution. Several courts have been looking into lawsuits demanding the panel be disbanded.
The Brotherhood and Morsy allies who dominate the assembly have pushed to give the draft an Islamist slant that opponents fear would marginalize women and minority Christians, infringe on personal liberties and even give Muslim clerics a say in lawmaking. Liberal and Christian members withdrew from the assembly during the past week to protest what they say is the hijacking of the process by Morsy's allies.
Morsy on Thursday extended by two months, until February, the deadline for the assembly to produce a draft, apparently to give members more time to iron out their differences.
He also barred any court from dissolving the Islamist-led upper house of parliament, a largely toothless body that has also faced court cases.