Mursi’s Decrees Don’t Threaten Egyptian Courts: Official

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi
Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi's Nov. 22 decrees sparked five days of unrest in the capital and other main cities and clashes between his foes and supporters. Source: AFP/Getty Images

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi told the country’s top judges that decrees granting himself more powers won’t infringe on the judiciary, his spokesman said.

Mursi said that the judiciary must remain independent and only “sovereign” decisions he takes would be immune to judicial review, spokesman Yasser Ali told reporters after the meeting, without providing further details. The Nov. 22 decrees triggered some of the biggest demonstrations since last year’s uprising against Hosni Mubarak,

Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mursi is struggling to revive an economy battered after last year’s uprising. Secular parties and youth groups have called for mass protests tomorrow against the decisions. The Muslim Brotherhood called off a planned demonstration to back Mursi “to avoid spilling blood,” Saad El-Katatni, secretary-general of the brotherhood’s Justice and Freedom party, said in an e-mailed statement.

Mursi is facing the challenge of appeasing critics without appearing to capitulate, while opposition groups that have failed to agree on most issues will need to unite to force a retreat, said analysts including Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center.

“The mistrust is so deeply seated at this point that I don’t know if there’s anything Mursi could do or the liberals could do to assure the other side,” Hamid said by phone. “It’s become a zero-sum game, unfortunately.”

U.S. Concern

Mursi’s decrees exempt the new constitutional assembly from legal challenge and ordered a re-investigation of top former officials, in relation to the killing of protesters last year, and the firing of the Mubarak-era public prosecutor.

Many judges and prosecutors have suspended work in protest over decisions they saw as undercutting their legitimacy and sidelining their oversight role.

Politically, the showdown could mobilize secularists and youth groups in the opposition that have been mostly divided since Mubarak’s ouster, Hani Sabra, Mideast analyst at the Eurasia Group consultancy, said by phone.

The decree has “galvanized them,” Sabra said. “Now, do they have the requisite support of the public to be able to influence Mursi to reverse course -- I think that’s an open question.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was not told about the impending decrees when she met with Mursi on the Gaza crisis a day before his announcement, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said today in Washington.

The U.S. has “some concerns about the decisions and declarations” by Mursi, White House press secretary Jay Carney said today at a briefing.

Egypt’s Decision

“We believe that the government in Egypt ought to reflect the will of the people,” Carney said. “The Egyptian people have to decide what that government will look like.”

The Free Egyptian Party, co-founded by Christian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, said it will go ahead with protests planned for tomorrow, MENA reported.

Former presidential candidate Amre Moussa also urged Egyptians to join demonstrations demanding Mursi’s decrees be revoked, saying they infringed on freedoms, MENA reported. Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, the former United Nations nuclear chief who played a key role in last year’s revolt, said talk was pointless until the decrees are rescinded.

Mursi “should have held a national dialogue before issuing his decrees. He ignored this. Now, we are waiting for the decree to be rescinded first and then talks can be held,” activist Esraa Abdel Fattah, a founding member of al Dostour party, said today by phone.

Temporary Action

Mursi has said the moves are temporary and not an attempt to monopolize power.

Presidential spokesman Ali said today the measures were designed to restore the rights of “revolutionaries” by allowing for retrials in relation to the killing of protesters and to realize constitutional, legislative and eventually political stability, MENA reported.

The clashes provoked by the decrees claimed their first fatality yesterday when one person was killed in northern Egypt as protesters stormed a Muslim Brotherhood headquarters, the group’s political party said on its Facebook page.

The Interior Ministry said that while it will respect peaceful protests and protect government buildings, it “will use its right to legitimate defense” as accorded by the law, MENA reported.

Mursi’s decision came on the heels of his successful brokering of a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas last week, thrusting Egypt back into the Middle East peace process.

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