Clashes in Egypt after Morsi grabs absolute power

Does Egypt have a new Pharaoh? Nearly two years after a popular uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime liberals and secular Egyptians accuse the Brotherhood of monopolizing power, dominating the writing of a new constitution and failing to tackle the country’s chronic economic and security problems. Mursi on Thursday issued a decree that puts his decisions beyond any legal challenge until a new parliament is elected. Opponents immediately accused him of turning into a new Mubarak and hijacking the Egyptian revolution.

On Friday supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi clashed in the worst violence since he took office, while he defended a decision to give himself near-absolute power to root out what he called “weevils eating away at the nation of Egypt.”

“I don’t like, want or need to resort to exceptional measures, but I will if I see that my people, nation and the revolution of Egypt are in danger,” Morsi told thousands of his chanting supporters outside the presidential palace in Cairo.

“I am for all Egyptians,” Mursi said on a stage outside the presidential palace, adding that he was working for social and economic stability and remained committed to the revolution.

But even before he spoke, thousands from each camp demonstrated in major cities, and violence broke out in several places, leaving at least 100 wounded, according to security officials. Tens of thousands of activists massed in Tahrir itself, denouncing Morsi. In a throwback to last year’s 18-day anti-Mubarak uprising, they chanted the iconic slogan first heard in Tunisia in late 2010: “The people want to overthrow the regime.” They also yelled “erhal, erhal,” — Arabic for “leave, leave.”

The president’s decree has consolidated his power but looks set to polarize Egypt further, threatening more turmoil in a nation at the heart of the Arab Spring.

“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,” said Mervat Ahmed, an independent activist in Tahrir protesting against the decree.

Leading liberal Mohamed ElBaradei, who joined other politicians on Thursday night to demand the decree was withdrawn, wrote on his Twitter account that Mursi had “usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh”.

Morsi and the Brotherhood contend that supporters of the old regime are holding up progress toward democracy. They have focused on the judiciary, which many Egyptians see as too much under the sway of Mubarak-era judges and prosecutors and which has shaken up the political process several times with its rulings, including by dissolving the lower house of parliament, which the Brotherhood led.

His edicts effectively shut down the judiciary’s ability to do so again. At the same time, the courts were the only civilian branch of government with a degree of independence: Morsi already holds not only executive power but also legislative authority, since there is no parliament.

His move came at a time when he was enjoying lavish praise from U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for brokering a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers on Wednesday. Clinton had been in Cairo for extensive talks with Morsi before the truce was announced.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, said in a statement that the edicts raise “concerns” for many Egyptians and for the international community, adding that the country’s revolution had aimed in part to prevent too much power from being concentrated in one person’s hands.

The U.S. urged “all Egyptians to resolve their differences over these important issues peacefully and through democratic dialogue,” she said. The European Union urged Mursi to respect the democratic process, while the United Nations expressed fears about human rights.

Morsi’s declaration of his power to take any steps necessary to prevent “threats to the revolution,” public safety or the workings of state institutions. Rights activists warned that the vague — and unexplained — wording could give him even greater authority than Mubarak had under emergency laws throughout his rule.

“God will humiliate those who are attacking our president, Mohammed Morsi,” said ultraconservative cleric Mohammed Abdel-Maksoud.

“Whoever insults the sultan, God humiliates him,” he added.

The state media described Morsi’s decrees as a “corrective revolution,” and supporters cast them as the only way to break through the political deadlock over drafting the constitution. Almost two years after Mubarak was toppled and about five months since Mursi took office, Egypt has no permanent constitution, which must be in place before new parliamentary elections are held. 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.

Sources: ABC news, Reuters.

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