Egypt’s Morsi Called “Pharaoh”, Violent Protests Erupt

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Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s decree exempting all his
decisions from legal challenge until a new parliament was elected caused fury
amongst his opponents on Friday.The oppositon
parties accused him of being the new Hosni Mubarak and hijacking the revolution. Thousands of
chanting protesters packed Tahrir Square, the heart of the 2011 anti-Mubarak
uprising, demanding that Morsi should quit and accusing him of launching a
“coup”.
There were violent
protests in Alexandria, Port Said and Suez.

Morsi’s aides said
the presidential decree was to speed up a protracted transition that has been
hindered by legal obstacles but Morsi’s rivals were quick to condemn him as a
new autocratic pharaoh who wanted to impose his Islamist vision on Egypt.

“I am for all
Egyptians. I will not be biased against any son of Egypt,” Morsi said on a
stage outside the presidential palace, adding that he was working for social
and economic stability and the rotation of power.

“Opposition in
Egypt does not worry me, but it has to be real and strong,” he said, in
response to his critics.

Buoyed by accolades
from around the world for mediating a truce between Hamas and Israel, Morsi on
Thursday ordered that an Islamist-dominated assembly writing the new
constitution could not be dissolved by legal challenges.

“Morsi a
‘temporary’ dictator,” was the headline in the independent daily Al-Masry
Al-Youm.
Morsi, an Islamist
whose roots are in the Muslim Brotherhood, also gave himself sweeping powers
that allowed him to sack the unpopular general prosecutor and opened the door
for a retrial of Mubarak and his aides.

The president’s
decree aimed to end the logjam and push Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous
nation, more quickly on its democratic path, the presidential spokesman said.
“President Morsi
said we must go out of the bottleneck without breaking the bottle,” Yasser Ali
told Reuters.

The president’s
decree said any decrees he issued while no parliament sat could not be
challenged, moves that consolidated his powers but look set to polarise Egypt
further, threatening more turbulence in a nation at the heart of the Arab
Spring.
The turmoil has
weighed heavily on Egypt’s faltering economy that was thrown a lifeline this
week when a preliminary deal was reached with the International Monetary Fund
for a 4.8 billion dollars loan.

But it also means
unpopular economic measures.

“The people want to
bring down the regime,” shouted protesters in Tahrir, echoing one of the chants
that was used in the uprising that forced Mubarak to step down.

In Alexandria,
north of Cairo, protesters ransacked an office of the Brotherhood’s political
party, burning books and chairs in the streets.

Supporters of Mursi
and opponents clashed elsewhere in the city, leaving 12 injured.
A party building
was also attacked by stone-throwing protesters in Port Said, and demonstrators
in Suez threw petrol bombs that burned banners outside the party building.

Morsi’s decree is
bound to worry Western allies, particularly the U.S., a generous benefactor to
Egypt’s army, which effusively praised Egypt for its part in bringing Israelis
and Palestinians to a ceasefire on Wednesday.
The West may become
concerned about measures that, for example, undermine judicial independence,
but one Western diplomat said it was too early to judge and his nation would
watch how the decree was exercised in the coming days.

“We are very
concerned about the possible huge ramifications of this declaration on human
rights and the rule of law in Egypt,” Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN Human
Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay, said at the UN in Geneva.

The U.S. has been
concerned about the fate of what was once a close ally under Mubarak, who
preserved Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

The Gaza deal has
reassured Washington but the deepening polarisation of the nation will be a
worry.
“The decree is
basically a coup on state institutions and the rule of law that is likely to
undermine the revolution and the transition to democracy,” Mervat Ahmed, an
independent activist in Tahrir protesting against the decree, said.

“I worry Morsi will
be another dictator like the one before him.”

Leading liberal
politician Mohamed ElBaradei, who joined other politicians on Thursday night to
demand the decree be withdrawn, wrote on his Twitter account that “Morsi had
usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh”.

Almost two years
after Mubarak was toppled and about five months since Morsi took office,
propelled to the post by the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt has no permanent constitution,
which must be in place before new parliamentary elections are held.
The last
parliament, that sat for the first time earlier this year, was dissolved after
a court declared it void.

It was dominated by
the Brotherhood’s political party.

An assembly drawing
up the constitution has yet to complete its work.
Many liberals,
Christians and others have walked out accusing the Islamists who dominate it of
ignoring their voices over the extent that Islam should be enshrined in the new
state.
Opponents call for
the assembly to be scrapped and remade.

Morsi’s decree
protects the existing one and extends the deadline for drafting a document by
two months, pushing it back to February, further delaying a new parliamentary
poll.

Explaining the
rationale behind the moves, the presidential spokesman said: “This means ending
the period of constitutional instability to arrive at a state with a written
constitution, an elected president and parliament.”

Thousands of the
president’s supporters gathered near the presidential palace, some holding up
Morsi posters or chanting for him.
The Muslim
Brotherhood had called for the rally.

Analyst Seif El Din
Abdel Fatah said the decree targeted the judiciary which he said had reversed,
for example, an earlier Morsi decision to remove the prosecutor.

Morsi’s new decree
protects him from such judicial reversals.

Although many of
Morsi’s opponents also opposed the sacked prosecutor, who they blamed for
shortcomings in prosecuting Mubarak and his aides, and also want judicial
reform, they say a draconian presidential decree was not the way to do it.

“There was a
disease but this is not the remedy,” said Hassan Nafaa, a liberal-minded
political science professor and activist at Cairo University.

“I can see from the
reaction of the political forces that we are going towards more polarisation
between the Islamist front on one hand and all the others on the other.

“This is a
dangerous situation,” he said, adding it could spark more street trouble.
The streets have
been relatively quiet since Morsi took office, although this week protesters
have clashed with police during rallies to mark deadly demonstrations last year.

In June, the then
ruling military council issued a decree as Morsi was being elected that sought
to rein in his powers, but he struck back in August issuing a decree as
president revoking that, giving himself those powers and sacking top generals.

The new army
leaders are now appointees of Morsi and have stepped back from politics. The
military still wields hefty powers.

(Reuters/NAN)

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