Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi’s decree granting himself power over his country’s judiciary last week is “unacceptable,” said Senator John McCain.
“If the judiciary is flawed in some way, then that’s an illness that can be cured over time,” Arizona’s McCain, ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said today on the “Fox News Sunday” program. “We thank Mr. Mursi for his efforts in brokering a cease-fire, which by the way is incredibly fragile, but this is not acceptable,” he said, adding the U.S. should demand that Mursi “renounce the statement” and “allow the judiciary to function.”
Mursi on Nov. 22 issued a decree that prevents his decisions from being challenged by the judiciary. Protests against that announcement entered a fourth day today and follow yesterday’s decision by Egypt’s judiciary to suspend work until Mursi rescinds his statement.
“We have to be very cautious,” Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said today on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “We don’t obviously want to see a democratically elected autocrat take the place of a undemocratically-elected dictator, which was the case before that,” he said, referring to former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Mursi last week also fired the country’s top prosecutor and ordered a retrial for officials who served under Mubarak and who are accused of causing the deaths of protesters last year. The step came a day after Mursi, an Islamist drawn from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, earned international plaudits by brokering a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the group that controls the Gaza Strip and is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., European Union and Israel.
Trading on Egypt’s stock exchange was temporarily halted today after the benchmark EGX 30 Index plunged and police fired tear gas at dozens of protesters in the capital’s Tahrir Square following mass demonstrations there and elsewhere in the country overnight. The EGX 30 Index tumbled 9.6 percent, the most since Jan. 27, 2011, to 4,917.73 at the close in Cairo, trimming this year’s gain to 36 percent.
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.”
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.
Secular groups and opposition parties have called for new mass rallies on Nov. 27 while the Muslim Brotherhood announced demonstrations in support of Mursi on the same day, raising the prospect of renewed violence if the two sides clash.
Both Levin and McCain blamed Iran for instability in the region, specifically the trafficking of weaponry through Egypt to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Eight days of air strikes and missile fire this month led to the deaths of 167 Palestinians and six Israelis.
“Let’s trace some of this back to Iran,” McCain said. “Where did the missiles come from that were being fired? Iran. Where are the Iranian Revolutionary Guard on the ground? In Syria.”
Levin said that while Iran is “the source of the problem” because of its support for Hamas, Egypt is in a position to provide a long-term solution beyond the current cease fire.
“If Egypt will take a strong role here to stop the tunnels from being used for weaponry getting into Gaza, this could lead to a real plus,” Levin said.