Protests Erupt as Morsi Decrees Greater Presidential Power
November 27, 2012
By: Ryan Mulvenna | Printer Friendly
On November 22, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi issued a constitutional decree granting sweeping powers to the president that challenge judicial independence and threaten Egypt’s progress toward democracy. The announcement came the day after Morsi had received praise from the West, including the United States (US), for his work in brokering a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel on November 21. The decree, which opponents called a de facto declaration of emergency law, sparked mass protests throughout Egypt. On November 23, rioting erupted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, resulting in the use of tear gas by police, while similar incidents occurred in Alexandria, Port Said, and Suez, including an attack on a Muslim Brotherhood office.
The constitutional decree has been criticized as a threat to the judiciary because it prevents legal challenges to presidential decisions. Morsi claimed that his actions were intended to protect the revolution and facilitate the transition to democracy by streamlining the judicial process. A spokesman for the President noted that, because Morsi is the only source of Egyptian legislation, he was acting within his right when he issued the decree. Furthermore, in a meeting with the Supreme Judicial Council, Egypt’s high court, Morsi promised that the decree was temporary and that he respected judicial independence. He assured the judges that the act applies only to “sovereign matters.” However, he did not define what areas of law would constitute such matters. Thus, critics charge that this limitation exists in name only.
Despite Morsi’s stated good intentions, opponents of the decree are not convinced that it is temporary or limited in scope. They view it as a power grab, effectively hijacking the revolution in an attempt to gain autocratic control of Egypt. Protesters in Tahrir Square expressed concern that Morsi is becoming a dictator. Because the decree made presidential decisions immune from legal challenge until a new parliament is elected, critics assert that the act undermines the judiciary and inhibits judicial oversight. The parliament cannot be elected until a permanent constitution is drafted—a process Morsi controls. The assembly charged with drafting the constitution is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and is widely criticized by the opposition as being too Islamist. There have been numerous challenges to the assembly’s composition. However, under the decree, there can be no legal challenges to the assembly. Furthermore, the decree extended that deadline to draft the constitution until February, two months longer than the previous deadline.
On November 24, Egyptian rights groups issued a joint statement condemning the decree. Twenty-two groups signed the open letter, including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession. The letter called on Morsi to withdraw his decree, stating that “the recent constitutional declaration does not achieve justice or protect the revolution. Rather, it merely codifies policies of impunity and provides for the continued absence of a state based on institutions and governed by rule of the law.”
Critics assert that the decree targets the judiciary because some of Morsi’s earlier actions had been reversed by the courts. One such reversal involved an attempt to dismiss the prosecutor general, Abdel-Maguid Mahmoud, in connection with his handling of former Egyptian President Mubarak’s conviction and his failure to adequately prosecute lower-level officials from the Mubarak regime. Although the prosecutor was unpopular, Hassan Nafaa, a professor at Cairo University, noted that a sweeping degree against the judiciary is not the way democratic governments are supposed to remove officials from their positions. The Judges Club, a union for Egyptian judges, is calling for a nationwide strike of judges and prosecutors until the decree is reversed. Both supporters and opponents of the decree called for demonstrations to be held on November 27. The supporters’ rally in Cairo was called off before it began. Over 10,000 opponents of the decree gathered in Tahrir Square by Tuesday afternoon to protest the declaration, with more expected to join in the evening.
For previous news on Egypt, please see
Democracy on the Brink: US-Egypt Aid Talks Halted
To view the Egyptian rights groups’ open letter, please click here.
Al Jazeera – Egyptians Gather for Mass Anti-Morsi Rally
BBC – Egyptian Rights Groups and el-Baradei denounce Mursi Decree
BBC – Egypt Crisis: Mohammad Mursi Meets Top Judges
CIHRS – New Constitutional Declaration Gives Morsi Sweeping Powers
Reuters (via Huffington Post) – Egypt President Mohammed Morsi Seizes New Powers
Voice of America – Egypt’s Morsi Pledges to Restrict New Powers to ‘Sovereign’ Matters