Morsi makes himself supreme ruler of Egypt
CAIRO — With a constitutional assembly on the brink of collapse and protesters battling the police in the streets over the slow pace of change, President Mohamed Morsi issued a decree on Thursday granting himself broad powers above any court as the guardian of Egypt’s revolution, and used his new authority to order the retrial of Hosni Mubarak.
Mr. Morsi, an Islamist and Egypt’s first elected president, portrayed his decree as an attempt to fulfill popular demands for justice and protect the transition to a constitutional democracy. But the unexpected breadth of the powers he seized raised immediate fears that he might become a new strongman. Seldom in history has a postrevolutionary leader amassed so much personal power only to relinquish it swiftly.
“An absolute presidential tyranny,” Amr Hamzawy, a liberal member of the dissolved Parliament and prominent political scientist, wrote in an online commentary. “Egypt is facing a horrifying coup against legitimacy and the rule of law and a complete assassination of the democratic transition.”
Mr. Morsi issued the decree at a high point in his five-month-old presidency, when he was basking in praise from the White House and around the world for his central role in negotiating a cease-fire that the previous night had stopped the fighting in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas.
But his political opponents immediately called for demonstrations on Friday to protest his new powers. “Passing a revolutionary demand within a package of autocratic decisions is a setback for the revolution,” Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a more liberal former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and a former presidential candidate, wrote online. And the chief of the Supreme Constitutional Court indicated that it did not accept the decree.
In Washington, a senior State Department official said, “We are seeking more information about President Morsi’s decisions and declarations today, which have raised concerns.”
Mr. Morsi’s advisers portrayed the decree as an attempt to cut through the deadlock that has stalled Egypt’s convoluted political transition more than 20 months after President Mubarak’s ouster. Mr. Morsi’s more political opponents and the holdover judicial system, they argued, were sabotaging the transition to thwart the Islamist majority.
|A little late to be concerned after Champ has endorsed everything Morsi has done, isn't it?|
The liberal and secular opposition has repeatedly threatened to boycott the Islamist-dominated constitutional assembly, led by Mr. Morsi’s allies in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. And as the assembly nears a deadline set under an earlier interim transition plan, most secular members and the representatives of the Coptic Church have walked out, costing it up to a quarter of its 100 members and much of its legitimacy.
|Might give Champ ideas...|
Meanwhile, the Supreme Constitutional Court — which Mr. Mubarak had tried to stack with loyalists and where a few judges openly fear Islamists — is poised to issue a decision that could dissolve the current assembly and require a new one. The same court already dissolved an earlier assembly and, on the eve of Mr. Morsi’s election in June, also dissolved Parliament, in each case citing technical issues of eligibility.
After the dissolution of Parliament, leaders of the council of generals who had ruled since Mr. Mubarak’s ouster seized all legislative power and control of the budget. But in August, Mr. Morsi won the backing of many other generals and officers for a decree that returned the army to its barracks and left him in sole control of the government, with executive and legislative authority.
Thursday’s decree frees Mr. Morsi, his decrees and the constitutional assembly from judicial oversight as well.
In a television interview, Mr. Morsi’s spokesman, Yasser Ali, stressed that the expanded powers would last only until the ratification of a new constitution in a few months, calling the decree “an attempt to end the transitional period as soon as possible.”
|Most importantly, it frees him...|
“Going around in a vicious circle in a transitional period has to end,” he said, apparently referring to the deadlocked constitutional assembly. In some respects, Mr. Morsi’s decree fulfills opposition demands. Secular representatives in the constitutional assembly had walked out in part over their accusation that the Islamists were unfairly rushing the work. But the decree pushes the deadline back two months from the end of the year.
|"I plan to be absolute ruler and do as I please. But only for now. Trust me."|
Mr. Morsi also replaced the public prosecutor, Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, a Mubarak appointee widely criticized for failing to win stronger sentences against Mr. Mubarak and his associates, and against abusive police officers. (Mr. Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison for overseeing the killing of protesters, but the verdict found no direct evidence of his involvement, paving the way for an appeal.)
Mr. Mahmoud’s replacement is Talaat Ibrahim Abdullah, former leader of the movement for judicial independence under Mr. Mubarak.
Mr. Morsi ordered retrials for Mr. Mubarak and others accused of responsibility for killing civilian protesters during the uprising. He stripped the accused of protections against being tried twice for the same crime and issued a law setting up a new transitional legal system to handle the retrials.
Another decree provision granted the president the “power to take all necessary measures and procedures” against any potential threat to the revolution.
On the Web site of the state newspaper Al Ahram, a prominent jurist, Salah Eissa, urged citizens “to take to the street and die, because Egypt is lost,” adding, “immunizing the decisions of the president with a constitutional declaration is a forgery and a fraud.”
Nathan J. Brown, a scholar of the Egyptian legal system at George Washington University, summed up the overall message: “I, Morsi, am all powerful. And in my first act as being all powerful, I declare myself more powerful still. But don’t worry — it’s just for a little while.”
Posted by: Steve White