Three days after giving himself sweeping powers over the judiciary, which incited civilian protest and political opposition, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi said on Sunday the move is only “temporary.”
Some opponents of Morsi’s new decree say it grants him more power than former President Hosni Mubarak. On Sunday, the scene in Tahrir Square was reminiscent of the protests that toppled Mubarak’s regime last year, according to state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram.
At least 10,000 demonstrators spent the night in Tahrir Square. They shouted slogans against Morsi’s decree, and even “the people demand the downfall of the regime.”
Morsi’s decree states that “laws and decrees made by the president since he took office on 30 June 2012, until the constitution is approved and a new People’s Assembly [lower house of Parliament] is elected, are final and binding and cannot be appealed by any way or to any entity. Nor shall they be suspended or canceled and all lawsuits related to them and brought before any judicial body against these decisions are annulled.”
The president is now immune to judicial censure. The decree also protects the Egyptian Constituent Assembly (formed to draft a new constitution) and the Shura Council (the upper house of the Egyptian Parliament) from dissolution. Both bodies are dominated by the conservative Muslim Brotherhood—Morsi‘s party.
Morsi’s office tried to calm the opposition, saying the “declaration is deemed necessary in order to hold accountable those responsible for the corruption, as well as other crimes, during the previous regime and the transitional period,” reported Saudi broadcaster Al-Arabiya.
The decree reopens cases in which protesters were killed last year. Some Mubarak-regime officials were acquitted of charges in previous trials, suggesting the judiciary may need “cleansing” of Mubarak supporters, said Mohamed Beltagy, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
Beltagy called on supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to “show strong continued support” for Morsi’s decree. “The revolution had to be put back on track,” he said in a statement Sunday. “Today, I call on the president to complete the cleansing process.”
The decree also gave Morsi the power to appoint a new prosecutor-general, Talaat Ibrahim Abdallah. Abdallah announced that some judges will be investigated when cases of protester deaths are reopened.
He also said in a statement on Sunday that “calls for a military coup against the ruling regime are a crime whose punishment could mount to capital punishment.”
As oppositional forces ramp up, even the head of the Islamist-dominated Shura Council criticized Morsi’s decree. Ahmed Fahmi, Shura Council leader, did not show solidarity with Morsi—a move Al-Ahram calls a “surprise.”
“We had hopes that President Morsi would put the constitutional declaration before a national referendum,” Fahmi told Al-Ahram. The declaration, he said, has “severely divided the nation into Islamists and civilians.”
Protesters attacked the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) offices in several provinces across Egypt Saturday. The FPJ office in Alexandria was destroyed in arson attacks.
Over the weekend, hundreds of Egyptian judges held an assembly in Cairo to discuss challenging Morsi’s decree. The Supreme Judiciary Council called Morsi’s alleged power grab an “unprecedented attack on judiciary independence,” according to Al-Ahram.
Opposition parties and activists announced Saturday the creation of a National Front party to take down the constitutional decree. The Front includes the Constitution Party, the Egyptian Popular Current, and the Social Democratic Party, among others.
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