Rival rallies in Egypt over Morsi powers


Deepening splits in Egyptian society went on display yesterday as supporters and opponents of Mohamed Morsi staged rival rallies over a move by the Islamist president to give himself quasi-autocratic powers.

Although Cairo remained peaceful, elsewhere in the country smaller protests turned violent when crowds turned their anger on the offices of Mr Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party. In the port city of Alexandria, dozens were injured in clashes between the president’s backers and his critics. Mr Morsi’s opponents then firebombed the offices of the FJP.

The president, who holds legislative authority in the absence of parliament, outraged opponents when he issued a constitutional declaration on Thursday making his decisions immune to legal challenge until a new assembly is elected. He sacked the Hosni Mubarak-era attorney general and forbade the courts from disbanding an Islamist-majority panel drafting the constitution.

Opposition leaders such as Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei said Mr Morsi was turning himself into a pharaoh.

“We did not overthrow Hosni Mubarak to replace him with another dictator,” said Fatma Mussallam, a development expert and one of tens of thousands of protesters who filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square yesterday.

The US said yesterday that Mr Morsi’s decisions raised “concerns for many Egyptians and for the international community”, and noted that “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”.

Amnesty International said the decisions trampled the rule of law and heralded a new era of repression.

In a televised speech delivered from a stage outside the presidential palace to huge crowds of Islamists from his Muslim Brotherhood and ultraconservative Salafi groups, Mr Morsi denied that he wanted to monopolise power.

To applause and chants of “the people want to cleanse the judiciary”, he said, in an hour-long rousing address, that the measures he took were aimed at “protecting the nation and protecting the revolution”.

Mr Morsi asserted his commitment to democracy and the rule of law and said he was reaching out to all Egyptians.

He suggested that “corrupt” individuals linked to the former regime “were hiding within the judiciary” and trying to dismantle elected bodies. The president’s high-risk measures, opening him to charges of seeking to restore autocracy, were necessary, said Muslim Brotherhood officials and some foreign observers, to speed up the institution-building process.

They said obstructionist members of the judiciary, loyal to the Mubarak regime, were deliberately thwarting efforts to complete the transition and restore stability. The constitutional court disbanded the recently elected Islamist-dominated parliament this year because it found the electoral law unfair.

Legal challenge

A legal challenge to the constitutional assembly is being considered by the courts and could have led to its dissolution.

On Thursday, Mr Morsi extended by two months, to mid-February, the deadline for the completion of the draft charter given to the fractious assembly from which liberals and the churches have withdrawn. Parliamentary elections will follow. “Every time we approach the endpoint, the ship sinks,” said brotherhood official Gehad Haddad.

“The president is seeking to cement an endpoint. The problem is that what was removed from the former regime during the revolution is only the camera-facing top layer. Everything below remains intact.”

Mr Haddad suggested that the president had to move because new plots were being woven against him.

A Cairo-based western observer, who approved of the measures, said: “Somebody has got to cut through the political infighting and to take decisions.” – (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2012)