Egypt’s president decreed his decisions are above review and ordered the retrial of former regime officials ahead of a planned mass protest against the Islamist-led government today in Cairo.
Mohamed Mursi’s decisions, which included firing the prosecutor-general and protecting a disputed constitutional committee from legal challenges, come after four days of violent demonstrations in the capital. The protesters include youth groups who say Mursi and his government haven’t fulfilled the aims of the protesters who ousted Hosni Mubarak, or brought to justice those responsible for killing protesters.
Mursi “wants the social unrest on the street to end and to rob the protesters of the card that there have been no punishments meted out,” Ashraf el-Sherif, adjunct lecturer in political science at the American University in Cairo, said by phone. “We may see a temporary relative quiet but when it becomes clear that the trials will not result in much, things will go back to where they were and we’ll see instability.”
The decrees, announced by presidential spokesman Yasser Ali in a televised address yesterday, came a day after Mursi was hailed by President Barack Obama and other leaders for his role in realizing a truce between Hamas and Israel. As well as dealing with the Gaza conflict and a renewed push to raise Egypt’s profile in the region, he is contending with unrest at home and an economy battered by months of strikes and protests.
Mursi also pushed from office Prosecutor-General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, who had served under Mubarak. Acquittals of Mubarak-era figures triggered mass protests and an unsuccessful bid by Mursi to fire the prosecutor last month. Talaat Ibrahim was appointed public prosecutor for four years, Ali said yesterday.
The new president, drawn from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, also decreed that no judicial body can disband the assembly writing the constitution, and extended the mandate of the 100-member panel by another two months. Ayman Nour, an opposition politician, told Al Jazeera television he was leaving the committee after the announcement.
The committee has faced legal challenges and been criticized by secular groups who contend it is dominated by Islamists forcing through articles that curtail freedoms and don’t represent the country’s religious minorities.
“Mursi today usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh,” Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, who played a key role in last year’s uprising, said on his Twitter account. “A major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences.”
Opposition figures including ElBaradie, former Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi issued a statement late yesterday calling for protests against the decrees, calling for them to be overturned and warning that Mursi’s legitimacy was on the line.
The moves mark the latest push by the Islamist president to wrest power away from a judiciary that the Brotherhood has argued is biased against him. The group said it supported his latest decisions and considers anyone who objects to them as “selling the blood of the martyrs,” the state-run Middle East News Agency said, citing Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan.
Analysts and activists such as Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer, predicted the decrees could further stoke unrest in the country as it struggles to right a stumbling economy and push ahead with a fitful political transition.
“Mursi has committed a fatal mistake by decreeing his decisions cannot be appealed,” Eid said by phone from Cairo. “The move will trigger more anti-government protests and will increase public frustration. The people don’t need another dictator.”
The judiciary also criticized the move. “It’s frightening,” Judge Yussuf Auf said by phone. “This decree is a disaster on many levels because it undermines judicial principles that have been in place for decades. This will lead to an intense clash between the judiciary and the presidency unlike any we’ve seen in the past.”
Mursi’s decree is “tragic” and “pained the nation,” Al Arabiya cited Egypt Judges Club Chairman Counselor Ahmad al-Zind as saying yesterday.
“This is an assault on the independence of the judiciary,” the chairman was cited as saying. “The Egyptian people should decide their future.”
Ibrahim said he will work to achieve the revolution’s goals following his appointment as public prosecutor by Mursi, Egypt’s state-run Ahram Gate website reported.
“I will do all I can to raise the banner of justice,” Ibrahim was cited as saying. “I want to assure the people that we will give them back their looted rights.”
In a nod to the demands of youth groups, Mursi ordered “reinvestigations and retrials in the crimes of killing, attempting to kill, and injuring protesters,” as well as crimes of “terrorism” against demonstrators by officials of the former regime. Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison in June for failing to stop the killing.
Mursi also stipulated that any decrees issued by him since taking office and preceding the adoption of a new constitution and the election of a new parliament are not open to appeal and can’t be reversed. New elections are slated to be held after the constitution is finished and approved in a referendum.
The decisions don’t mean the return of the former Islamist-dominated parliament, which Mursi tried to reinstate after it was disbanded by the country’s then-ruling generals after a court ruling, Ali said late yesterday in an interview with Al Jazeera.