Compiled by Gateway News from Spiegel Online, Christian Post, Times Live, Aina News.
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has decreed unprecedented powers for himself in a move seen by critics as an ominous step towards the Islamisation of Egypt.
The unforeseen power grab by Morsi, a member of the radical Islamist Brotherhood, has provoked violent protest in Egypt unlike anything seen since the popular uprising that toppled former Egyptian autocrat, President Hosni Mubarak early last year.
Morsi brazenly issued his autocratic decree on November 22, a day after he was being praised by the Obama administration for his “practical” role in working out a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. “This was somebody focused on solving problems,” a “senior administration official” admiringly told the New York Times.
Beyond the law
During his election campaign and after his election, Morsi, a somewhat obscure, 61-year-old US trained engineer, promised to be a president for all and to build a broad-based presidential administration. He caught everyone off guard in August when he forced the retirement of Mubarak-era generals who had established themselves as a rival source of authority. He enjoyed broad support for that move. He is however facing strong opposition to his latest move in which he issued a decree that shields his decisions from judicial review and effectively puts him beyond the law. It gives the same kind of protection to the lower house of parliament–which is dominated by Islamists who are writing Egypt’s new constitution and had been facing legal challenges; and similarly insulates the Islamist-controlled upper house of parliament.
Morsi also ordered retrials of officials from the previous Mubarak regime who were charged with violence in putting down the 2011 Tahrir Square-centered rebellion–including the 84-year-old Mubarak himself, even though he was already sentenced to life in prison.
In ensuing clashes across the country between supporters of Morsi’s Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, opposition parties and police since Friday (November 23), some 500 injuries have been reported. The first death in the unrest was reported on Sunday, when a 15-year-old boy was killed and 40 others were wounded as anti-Morsi protesters tried to storm the political offices of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in Damanhoor.
Amid the ongoing clashes, the Egyptian stock market index reportedly dropped 9.59 percentage points on Sunday, the first day of trading since the edicts were announced. The steep drop was among the biggest since the uncertainty surrounding the toppling of Mubarak.
Egypt’s highest body of judges blasted Morsi for giving himself vast powers, and judges went on a strike to protest the Islamist leader’s move.
The Supreme Judicial Council said in a statement after holding an emergency meeting in Cairo on Saturday that Morsi’s new constitutional declaration is “an unprecedented violation [of] the independence of the judiciary and its rulings.”
Courts in Alexandria, Qalyubiya and Beheira governorates refused to hear cases after the Judges Club called for a strike of judges, state-owned Al-Ahram reported.
There are signs, however, that Morsi may seek a compromise to ease tensions with his opponents. In a statement issued on Sunday evening, his office said the decrees were necessary for a proper transition to democracy and stressed that they would not be permanent. “The presidency reiterates the temporary nature of the said measures, which are not meant to concentrate powers,” it said.
Calling for calm and dialogue, the United States State Department on Friday noted, “One of the aspirations of the revolution was to ensure that power would not be overly concentrated in the hands of any one person or institution.”
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement that Morsi’s declaration that his decisions cannot be revoked by any authority in the country, not even the judiciary, raises “concerns for many Egyptians and for the international community.”
Egypt has a provision constitution since 2011, and until a new constitution is finalized no one can overturn any decree or law Morsi will issue – or has issued since he took office in June.
Nuland said the “constitutional vacuum” must “only be resolved by the adoption of a constitution that includes checks and balances, and respects fundamental freedoms, individual rights, and the rule of law consistent with Egypt’s international commitments.”
Egyptian opposition critics were much more forceful in their reaction to Morsi’s decree. Prominent Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei said: “He grabbed full power for himself. Not even the pharaohs had so much authority, to say nothing of his predecessor Hosni Mubarak. This is a catastrophe — it a mockery of the revolution that brought him to power and an act that leads one to fear the worst.”
Journalist, Theodor Shoebat, writing in Frontpage Magazine, wrties: “Egypt has now a modern pharaoh, named Muhammad Morsi, and with him as the sole ruler, the country will ultimately become an official Sharia state. Sharia is already enforced to some degree, but now that the Muslim Brotherhood is expanding its power, it will implement the edicts of its constitution, the Koran, to is fullest capacity.”
Germany’s centre-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
“The reason for Morsi’s clumsily handled grab for complete power is obvious. The new Islamization of Egypt, the pet project of the Muslim Brotherhood, has arrived. … The mistakes of the revolution are taking their toll: the divided opponents of the Islamists, time pressure, vague guidelines for the new constitution, and the lack of police reform. And then there is the good faith in the fundamentalists who have kidnapped the revolution and are now working to build a Sharia state.”
Left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:
“Many Egyptians fear that Egypt is now headed directly into a new dictatorship. They feel let down because the West is allowing Morsi’s power grabbing at home to go on because their interests are being met. It was no different under Hosni Mubarak’s government.”
During the heady period of the Arab Spring uprising on Cairo’s Tahir Square, starry-eyed liberal commentators hailed it as a move towards freedom and democracy. Christian commentators were however already warning that highly organised Islamists were ready to exploit the uprising to further their agenda to turn Egypt into a repressive Islamic state under Shariah law (See April 2011 report in Gateway News). Egypt’s Christian minority are most at risk of increased persecution if Shariah Law is imposed in Egypt.
Optimistic commentators are now pinning their hopes on attempts by fractious opposition groups to band together to increase resistance to Morsi’s edicts, and to defend the democratic ideals of the Arab Spring. Another glimmer of hope is that the West may put pressure on Morsi.