Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy’s decree that endows him with sweeping powers has triggered violent clashes across Egypt, with the torching of Muslim Brotherhood offices in some cities and street battles amid clouds of teargas fired by police.
State television is reporting that Mr. Morsy’s opponents have set ablaze offices of the Muslim Brotherhood — the President’s party’s parent organisation — in the Suez canal cities of Suez, Port Said and Ismailia. In Alexandria, Mr. Morsy’s supporters and opponents fought pitched battles after noon prayers with stones and chunks of marble pulled out of a mosque. Anti-Morsy demonstrators hurled firecrackers at the President’s supporters, who shielded themselves with prayer rugs.
Tahrir Square remained surrealistically calm, imbued in an air of festivity as tens of thousands descended at this anti-establishment landmark on a pleasant sunlit afternoon.
“The revolution continues,” said Rabab Al Mahdi, an assistant professor of political science at the American University of Cairo who had joined the protests at the square. “Last night Mr. Morsy took a major step to re-invent the dictatorship — this cannot be accepted,” she added, unaware of the violence that had begun to stir not far away.
Bolstered by rising international stature after his vital contribution in brokering a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, Mr. Morsy had on Thursday armed himself with impregnable powers, immune to the intervention by Egypt’s courts.
In essence, the President’s constitutional decree makes it impossible for the judiciary, which is mulling over a slew of litigations, to dissolve Egypt’s controversial constitutional-drafting assembly that critics say is dominated by pro-Islamists.
Softening the blow
Anticipating a stormy response to his move — which some say echoes Egypt’s authoritarian past — Mr. Morsy sacked Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, the much maligned prosecutor-general. Mr. Mahmoud had earlier been targeted by protesters for his alleged role in protecting Mubarak-era remnants in the security forces. Talaat Ibrahim, who will play a major role in the retrial that Mr. Morsy has ordered of all those who have been charged of killing or injuring protesters during the course of the Egyptian uprising, will now succeed Mr. Mahmoud.
Mr. Morsy has also declared that all officials facing allegations of “terrorising” protesters during Mr. Mubarak’s rule will be retired. Soon after his inauguration to the presidency, Mr. Morsy consolidated his powers by successfully challenging the country’s military top brass, which steered Egypt’s initial transition to democracy.
Now, with his latest move, the President has taken on the judiciary, which, in the view of his supporters, had become a major stumbling block in the drafting of a new constitution. Once approved in a popular referendum, the new national charter would pave the way for fresh parliamentary elections.
Mr. Morsy’s decree also shelled the Shura council, the Upper House of Parliament, from dissolution.
The Muslim Brotherhood defended the presidential decree. Ali Abdel-Fattah, a prominent Brotherhood member told Ahram Online that the President “has full rights as a democratically elected leader” to initiate a declaration, in the absence of a legislative body. Earlier on Friday, Mr. Morsy told his supporters outside the presidential palace that his sole aim through the decree was to impart “political, social and economic stability” in the country.
Despite the reassurances, it is evident that Mr. Morsy’s perceived power grab has ignited a political firestorm. Mohamed ElBaradei, the former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief accused Mr. Morsy of becoming Egypt’s “new pharaoh”. “(Mr.) Morsy today usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh. A major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences,” tweeted Mr. ElBaradei on Thursday. The Nobel laureate had earlier slammed Egypt’s meandering political process as “the stupidest transition in history”.
Mohamed Waked, founder of the National Front for Justice and Democracy called the presidential ruling “a pre-emptive measure aimed at preventing any potential ruling against the assembly”. Others have criticised Mr. Morsy’s move as a “judicial coup,” that makes a mockery of the principle of separation of powers — the foundation of any democracy.