November 23, 2012

Egypt leader grants himself far-reaching powers

Fresh from his diplomatic triumph in Gaza, President Mohamed Morsi asserts sweeping control; liberal critics have labeled him the ‘new pharaoh.’

The Associated Press

CAIRO - Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi took extensive new powers for himself Thursday, freeing his decisions from judicial review and threatening retrials for former top officials, including ex-president Hosni Mubarak.

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Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi issued constitutional amendments Thursday that put him out of reach of judicial oversight.

The Associated Press

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An Egyptian protester chants slogans and holds a cross and a Quran in Tahrir Square on Frida. Supporters and opponents of Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi staged rival rallies Friday after he assumed sweeping new powers, a clear show of the deepening polarization plaguing the country.

AP

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The decree, issued a day after Morsi won international praise for fostering a cease-fire in Gaza, appears to leave few if any checks on his power. The president said all of the decisions he has made since he took office in June -- and until a new constitution is adopted and a parliament elected -- were final and not subject to appeal or review.

The announcement, read on state television by Morsi's spokesman and broadcast repeatedly, accompanied by nationalistic songs, shocked many in this struggling country and street protests quickly erupted.

Morsi's broad assertion of control came less than 24 hours after a diplomatic triumph in arranging the cease-fire in Gaza had given new credence to Morsi's international bona fides. And it raised questions about whether the country might be headed to a return of its Mubarak-era role on the world stage: a country praised for bringing stability to a volatile region and tolerated for abusing rights at home.

Muslim Brotherhood officials, with whom Morsi is allied, said the measures were necessary to ensure the country's full and healthy return to democracy.

"This level of immunity for presidential decrees is indeed unprecedented, but it is necessary and it is controlled by a time frame" that ends with the election of a new parliament, said Gehad el-Haddad, a senior Muslim Brotherhood adviser. "This constitutional declaration cements the way forward in terms of time frame and powers."

But the decision raised immediate concerns among many liberal activists who were already worried that Morsi had taken a distinctly authoritarian air in the three months since he swept out the top ranks of the military and sidelined what had long been a powerful independent institution in Egypt. Egypt's short-lived parliament was dismissed by the country's high court shortly before Morsi took power, so legislative powers also are concentrated under the president. Taking the courts out of the equation means there will be no judicial review of Morsi's decisions.

Morsi was elected in June, narrowly triumphing over a Mubarak-era cabinet minister, Ahmed Shafiq, with 52 percent of the vote.

"The president may take the necessary actions and measures to protect the country and the goals of the revolution," the decree read in part.

"Morsi today ... appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh," wrote former liberal presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei on Twitter. "A major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences."

The implications on the international stage seemed less clear, and any American response was muted because of the Thanksgiving holiday. Just hours before the announcement, Morsi had been winning plaudits from Israel, Hamas and the United States for having brokered a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood offshoot that rules the Palestinian enclave of the Gaza Strip. Over Tuesday and Wednesday, Morsi and President Obama spoke by telephone three times, White House officials said.

"Morsi chose an interesting time to issue this decree, right after this success with the Gaza cease-fire," said Shadi Hamid, an Egypt expert at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. "In some ways, there is a real danger of returning to the Mubarak-era situation where the U.S. really cares about the foreign policy and turns a blind eye to domestic abuses."

(Continued on page 2)

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