President Mohamed Mursi met for the second time in two days with his top advisers amid efforts to defuse a growing political crisis borne of the Islamist’s decision to grant himself sweeping new powers.
The president saw his top advisers and aides, Ahram Online reported today, as opposition mounted against the decrees, announced Nov. 22. Stocks tumbled today, sending the EGX 30 down 9.6 percent, the biggest drop since January 2011, after four days of unrest.
The decrees, which Mursi has said are temporary and necessary to safeguard the goals of last year’s uprising, place his decisions above the review of any court or authority in the nation. A “large number” of the country’s judges and prosecutors halted work in protest, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported today.
Critics assailed the move, likening it to the policies of the regime of Hosni Mubarak that led to his ouster last year. It also threatened to place Mursi, drawn from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, on a collision course with the judiciary. Several top judicial groups announced strikes while secularists dubbed his step as further evidence the Brotherhood was looking to cement its hold on power.
The move left Mursi with the difficult task of defusing a crisis that could mobilize an opposition cadre of secularists and youth groups that have largely been unable to unify since Mubarak’s ouster.
“It’s a fatal mistake,” Khalil el-Anani, a political analyst at the U.K’s Durham University, said by phone. “Mursi has created a real crisis and a deadlock with no political way out in sight.”
The decrees were “a big blow to the revolution, the transitional period and the democracy Egyptians were hoping to establish that could have dire consequences on the political scene,” he said.
Nile News reported the Justice Minister was mediating with the Judges Club, one of the bodies that had called for a strike, to end the crisis between the executive and judicial branches.
Thousands of demonstrators have in the past four days flooded the square that served as the focal point for the uprising against Mubarak. Mursi took the stage there in triumph after winning the presidency in June, pledging to be the president for all Egyptians.
“Appalling police brutality against demonstrators continues unabated,” Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei said on his Twitter account last night. “Mubarak’s repressive regime alive and well.”
Mursi’s decrees include retrying top Mubarak-era officials, and state that the committee drafting the constitution and parliament’s upper house could not be dissolved, allowing them to escape the same potential fate that befell the earlier constitution panel and the parliament’s lower house.
Both the legislature’s upper chamber, or the Shura Council, and the constitutional panel are dominated by Islamists. The Shura’s president, Ahmed Fahmi, said Mursi should have put the decrees to a public referendum before announcing them and called on him to meet with political forces to “end the crisis,” the state-run Ahram Gate reported. The parliament, however, backed his moves, according to state media.
Mursi has butted heads with the judiciary several times before, including seeing the country’s highest court rule against an earlier decree to reinstate the Islamist-dominated lower house of parliament. The Brotherhood has argued the judiciary is stacked against the president.
The decrees are an “unprecedented attack” on the independence of the judiciary, Egypt’s Supreme Judicial Council said in a statement after an emergency meeting, MENA said yesterday. Egypt’s judges have decided to suspend work in all courts across the country, the Cairo-based agency reported.
Secular groups and opposition parties have called for new mass rallies on Nov. 27 while the Brotherhood announced demonstrations in support of Mursi on the same day, raising the prospect of renewed violence if the two sides clash.
The Brotherhood said several of its headquarters around the country came under attack over the weekend by protesters, including on Nov. 23 when crowds estimated to be greater than 300,000 massed in Tahrir Square.
The number of injured since Nov. 23, the day of the mass protest, has climbed to 297, MENA reported, citing the Health Ministry.
While ElBaradei’s National Coalition for Change and others have called on the armed forces and police to join the opposition, analysts and commentators such as Wael Qandil, the editor-in-chief of the independent al-Shorouk newspaper, warned this could stir up even more unrest.
The revolutionary forces should guard themselves from alliances with the “feloul,” he wrote in today’s edition of the paper, using the term for remnants of the ousted regime. It’s “dangerous for Egypt’s real opposition to form alliances with other opposing forces that are corrupt and fake,” he said.
The decrees were announced a day after Mursi was praised by international leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama for helping to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza’s Islamist rulers.
Analysts including Omar Ashour of the University of Exeter in the U.K. say the Islamist president couldn’t afford to ignore pro-Gaza public sentiment at home, especially as he faces a litany of domestic challenges including the lack of a constitution, criticism about perceived attempts to limit freedoms under a new charter and an economy battered by last year’s uprising. Planning and International Cooperation Minister Ashraf el-Arabi said yesterday the budget deficit may balloon to 13 percent of economic output if the government’s reform program isn’t implemented.
Mursi’s decisions “raise concerns for many Egyptians and for the international community,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Nov. 23. “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.”
Financial aid from the U.S., and American support for Egypt’s efforts to get loans from the International Monetary Fund and other organizations, is contingent on democratic development. Egypt reached a preliminary agreement with the IMF on Nov. 20 for a $4.8 billion loan.
“Only last week, President Mursi was over the moon on his endless work on the cease-fire on Gaza,” Teymour El-Derini, Middle East and North Africa sales trading director at Naeem Brokerage, said in an e-mailed note.
Days later, “he decided to up it a notch and take freedom from the people and be the new Pharoah,” el-Derini said today. “In retrospect, that’s everything against the beliefs of the U.S.”