Promise of a New Beginning for Egyptians Turns into Protest against Morsi’s Decree
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi on Friday insisted Egypt was on the path to “freedom and democracy,” as tens of thousands of protesters held rival rallies to demonstrate against sweeping powers he assumed a day earlier.
“Political stability, social stability and economic stability are what I want and that is what I am working for,” he told thousands of his supporters outside the presidential palace, according to an AFP report. “I have always been, and still am, and will always be, G-d willing, with the pulse of the people, what the people want, with clear legitimacy,” he declared.
Morsi’s backers, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, gathered outside the presidential palace in north Cairo in a show of support for his decision to temporarily place his decisions above judicial oversight. “The people support the president’s decisions,” the crowd chanted.
Just hours before Morsi spoke, protesters attacked Muslim Brotherhood offices in several cities, including in Alexandria.”The situation in Alexandria is tense, and security forces are eager to exercise self-restraint and maintain security and protect vital establishments,” General Abdelmawgud Lutfi, head of Alexandria security, said in a statement.
In Cairo, an array of liberal and secular groups, including activists at the forefront of the protest movement that forced former President Hosni Mubarak from power early last year, marched on Tahrir Square, Cairo’s iconic protest hub, to demonstrate against the “new pharaoh.”
On Thursday, in an effort to undercut a hostile judiciary that had been considering whether to scrap an Islamist-dominated panel drawing up a new constitution, Morsi stripped judges of the right to rule on the case or to challenge his decrees.
The decision effectively places the president above judicial oversight until a new constitution is ratified.
“He’s a president that was elected to office with no constitution, no parliament and no defined powers in the state. It’s an exceptional circumstance,” argued Muslim Brotherhood senior adviser Jihad Haddad, who accused Mubarak-appointed judges of blocking Morsi’s attempts to reform the country’s institutions.
Morsi’s office insisted that the powers are only temporary. Haddad said the declaration will only be valid until a draft of the constitution is submitted.
“[Morsi] tried to do this through the only available avenue and choice,” Haddad said. “It does terrify [Morsi opponents] because the only thing they can rely on is trust and that trust was given to us during the presidential elections.”
Morsi’s opponents poured into Tahrir Square after the main weekly Muslim prayers, joined by leading secular politicians Mohamed ElBaradei, a former UN nuclear watchdog chief, and Amr Mussa, a former foreign minister and Arab League chief.
Morsi’s decisions “are clearly aimed at appropriating revolutionary legitimacy and using it to strengthen the position of the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled presidency,” Hesham Sallam, a political analyst at Georgetown University, told AFP.
“The decrees effectively render the presidential decisions final and not subject to the review of judicial authorities, which marks a return to Mubarak-style presidency, without even the legal cosmetics that the previous regime used to employ to justify its authoritarian ways,” Sallam said.
A spokesman for the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), headed by Morsi before his election, said the president’s decree was necessary to cut short the turbulent transitional period.
“We need to move things in the right direction,” the spokesman, Murad Ali said, according to AFP. “We need stability. That’s not going to happen if we go back again to allowing the judges, who have personal reasons, to dissolve the constituent assembly in order to prolong the transitional phase.”
Morsi also sacked prosecutor general Abdel Meguid Mahmud, whom he failed to oust last month, amid strong misgivings among the president’s supporters about the failure to secure convictions of more members of the old regime.
With the opening bell of the country’s stock market on Sunday, the first day of the workweek in Egypt, the turmoil spreading around the country had an immediate impact on an already ailing economy. The Egyptian Exchange’s EGX30 index dropped 9.59 percentage points, making the losses among the biggest since the turbulent days and weeks immediately after the ouster in a popular uprising of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak last year.
The loss in the value of shares was estimated at close to $5 billion.
Late Sunday, Morsi’s office issued an English-language statement defending his decrees, repeating the argument he used when addressing supporters Friday outside his Cairo palace that the measures were designed to bolster the country’s transition to democratic rule and dismantle Mubarak’s old regime.
“The presidency reiterates the temporary nature of the said measures, which are not meant to concentrate powers,” it said. The statement also pledged Morsi’s commitment to engaging all political forces in drafting a new constitution. Secular and Christian members withdrew from the panel drafting the document, claiming that the Islamists who dominate the body have hijacked the process to produce a charter with an Islamist slant.
The United States is concerned about Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi taking on broader powers, saying it does not want to see too much authority resting in too few hands. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr Monday to discuss President Morsi’s assumption of broader powers.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says Secretary Clinton underscored the importance Washington places on settling these disputes democratically.
“We want to see the constitutional process move forward in a way that does not overly concentrate power in one set of hands, that ensures that rule of law, checks and balances, protections of the rights of all groups in Egypt are upheld,” she said.
“The fact that the right people are talking to each other is a good step, but obviously we want to see this issue resolved in a way that meets the standards and principles that we have been supporting all the way through since the Egyptian revolution began,” she said.