After the Power Play in Egypt: Morsi and the Islamists vs. Everyone Else

In a decree that stunned almost everyone, Egypt’s President turns from basking in praise over negotiating a Gaza cease-fire to assuming virtually authoritarian power

  • Share
  • Read Later
Moises Saman / Magnum for TIME

Egyptian protestors clash with police near Tahrir Square, Nov. 27, 2012.

Friday afternoon’s broadcast of the al-Jazeera Arabic news channel presented a tableau that might well encapsulate the state of modern Egypt. On one side of the split screen, President Mohamed Morsi spoke before thousands of cheering supporters outside the presidential palace. “Don’t be worried,” he said, standing in front a backdrop of soaring birds. “Let’s move together into a new phase.”

Meanwhile, the other half of the screen showed tear-gas canisters arcing into the ranks of the thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square demonstrating against Morsi and chanting many of the same slogans they chanted against Hosni Mubarak nearly two years earlier.

(MORE: Morsi’s Gaza Challenge: How New Can the New Egypt Afford to Be?)

The latest flashpoint in Egypt’s terminally messy postrevolutionary period was Morsi’s stunning Thanksgiving-night constitutional decree that granted himself sweeping and unchecked authority for the next several months and greatly limited the powers of Egypt’s judiciary. According to the decree, Egypt’s judges no longer have the power to dissolve the Constituent Assembly — effectively killing an in-progress court case that could have disbanded the body drafting the new constitution. That Constituent Assembly, via the decree, now has an extra two months to finish its work, potentially extending the process into early 2013 and subsequent parliamentary elections into the year. Public prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, whom Morsi tried and failed to fire earlier this year, is finally out via the retroactive creation of term limits on his time in power.

Most disturbingly, the decree states that any presidential decisions made since Morsi took office in June and until there is a new elected parliament and an approved constitution “are final and binding and cannot be appealed by any way or to any entity.”

It also includes the following simple, yet ominous, article: “The President may take the necessary actions and measures to protect the country and the goals of the revolution.” (Here is an English-language version of Morsi’s decree.)

(PHOTOS: A New Gaza War: Israel and Palestinian Militants Trade Fire)

Egypt’s fractured political arena essentially exploded at the news. Major players from Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa to third-place presidential finisher Hamdeen Sabahi quickly formed a united public front against the President. Numerous comparisons abounded to ancient Egypt, claiming Morsi had just named himself into the new pharaoh, and clever Egyptian Twitter users began referring to the President as “Morsillini.”

(One of the ironies is that many Egyptian revolutionaries would, in different circumstances, be thrilled to see Mahmoud, essentially the country’s attorney general, sacked. The Mubarak-era holdover is widely regarded as having bungled the postrevolutionary trials of the Mubarak family, their cronies and the security officials responsible for trying to suppress the 2011 revolution. Morsi’s decree also stipulated retrials for many of the Mubarak officials who were either acquitted or received light sentences.)

Even before the decree, Tahrir Square had already been up in arms for several days, with protests to commemorate the one-year anniversary of a series of violent November 2011 clashes with police in Tahrir’s Mohammed Mahmoud Street that had quickly devolved last week into a fresh set of clashes over the same patch of ground.

All of which culminated in Friday’s massive dueling protests. Thousands flooded into Tahrir Square to chant against Morsi and fought with police whenever they tried to march on the nearby parliament and Interior Ministry. And across town, equally huge crowds — many bussed in by the Muslim Brotherhood — chanted in favor of their President. This parallel-protest dynamic promises to play out through the coming week; both sides have called for further protests on Tuesday.

(MORE: The Gaza Crisis and Egypt: Can Cairo Manage a Complex Relationship?)

Morsi already holds both executive and legislative power after the previous Islamist-dominated parliament was dissolved by court order over the summer. Now he has moved to place himself beyond the reach of the judicial branch as well.

“Morsi and his supporters are asking us to trust a President who will work within a system of absolute authority,” wrote Ziad Akl, a political scientist with the state-funded Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “Egypt is not in need of a trustworthy man, it rather needs a system that will make the President, regardless of who he is, accountable to the people and only then he could be trusted.”

In the wake of the decree, Morsi has claimed that he doesn’t seek unlimited power and that the decree is a temporary but necessary step in order to protect the revolution and ensure the achievement of the uprising’s goals and ideals.

“If I see that the nation of the revolution might be in danger from those who are loyalists of the old regime … I will act. It is a must,” he said on Friday.

The implication in that statement is that Egypt’s judiciary as a whole is a Mubarak-era obstacle that must be sidelined and overcome in order for the revolution to succeed. Thursday’s decree amounts to a declaration of war on the judges after months of simmering tensions between them and Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood — dating back to the dissolution of the parliament.

But this time, the judges show every sign of fighting back. On Saturday evening, a group of senior judges, along with the deposed public prosecutor, held a defiant press conference denouncing the decree.

(PHOTOS: Egypt: Thousands Protest President Morsi’s Decree)

In a statement, the Supreme Judicial Council called his move “an unprecedented attack on the independence of the judiciary,” while judges in Egypt’s second city, Alexandria, announced they were going on strike until Morsi withdrew the decree.

Morsi’s maneuver comes at a time when his presidential stock was particularly high. His role last week in brokering a cease-fire between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip had earned him international praise amid talk of a new and burgeoning relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama.

But on Friday, the U.S. State Department issued a statement flatly expressing its concern for his sudden accumulation of nearly unchecked power. “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 statement said. “The current constitutional vacuum in Egypt can only be resolved by the adoption of a constitution that includes checks and balances, and respects fundamental freedoms, individual rights and the rule of law consistent with Egypt’s international commitments.”

Since taking office, Morsi has repeatedly stated that all his power and legitimacy flows from the street — specifically from Tahrir Square. But now a large portion of that street has violently turned against him. Tahrir Square — which for several months this year was almost exclusively Islamist territory — has become the epicenter of the freshly galvanized movement against his rule.

In symbolism that’s hard to ignore, Morsi and his supporters have abandoned Tahrir for the streets outside the presidential palace. Morsi appears to have won the behind-closed-doors battle for power. But it may be the street battles (peaceful or otherwise) looming this week that determine whether he can truly pull this off.

Khalil is a Cairo-based journalist and author of Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation

21 comments
mr.zoma
mr.zoma like.author.displayName 1 Like

most of this article are not true about 80% of the Egyptian people are agree with the president steps to clear the country from the old regime all of the protesters don't have logical causes for disagree

Hala
Hala

@mr.zoma 

You're completely wrong and detached. This is exactly what is happening in Egypt. Wake up. 

AdyRainbow
AdyRainbow

As I said all along, not so much an Arab spring as a taqiyya sunrise. Did any one really expect the MB to maintain a democratic system, the Saudi backed salafists are against freedom and democracy, they will impose a theocracy on Egypt or die trying.

gothicinnos
gothicinnos like.author.displayName 1 Like

The article is written with full statements, first of all it's not The Highest Judge Counsel which is not Islamic, supports Morsi last announcements, 2ndly, it's not Morsi + Islamists vs the rest, it's the President + Islamist + Labors Counsel + Other Civil Parties vs The opposition which consist of the old regime. 

by that, your article is false.

TerryClifton
TerryClifton like.author.displayName 1 Like

It seems that the liberals favorite new Islamic dictator has started to flex his political muscles. That silence you're hearing from the White House is deafening. Morsi and Obama both share a fondness of suppressing & violating human rights and neither pay attention to the rule of law..

Tothiwim
Tothiwim

Those who claim the right to impose religion are the enemy. Period.

row1519
row1519

After watching the debacle of the last  U.S. presidential election, where attempts were made to deny voters the right to cast their ballots, I wonder what right we have to criticize Morsy. Democracy is a concept that must evolve and not imposed. However, we must realize that the practice of democracy can sometimes be hijacked and corrupted. At which point the offending elements must be purged. For the moment, we should all be satisfied just to be spectators and see how all this unfolds. The Egyptian people have shown that they are quite capable of  setting their own destiny.

MPA
MPA

Yawn.  No issue here.  No one was whining about dicatoral powerswhen the head of SCAF kept rewriting the constitution to give them morepowers than Mubarak.  Not to mention how they conspired with the Mubarakera judges to dissolve the elected Parlieament and rewrite theconstitution to steal powers from the then President elect Morsi, thusgiving themselves the same powers Morsi now has.The only issuehere is that the losers in the elections don't want Morsi to succeed andhe can't if the Mubarak era judges kept actively issuing injunctionsagainst them and threatening to dissolve the Shura council andconstitutional committee. These limited judicial review decreesare necessary.  Our legislature has done the same thing and AbrahamLincoln has done the same thing after the civil war.Things willgo as planned. The decrees will stand.  The constitution will becompleted in two months and Parliamentary elections will be held.  TheMubarak judges don't want this and neither do his loyalists, thesecularists because they know once everything is said and done, theIslamists will always win the elections, like they have done so far.Anyonewho is against Morsi, is against the Democratic process.  Stupidprotests and arsons like this is only a good way for any leader to clingto power by issuing Martial Law.  Something that the ElBaradei andother losers in the Presidential election want,  because they are stillchewing on sour grapes.

Mannon
Mannon

@MPA you are sick

MPA
MPA

@Mannon Ah name calling.  The first sign I won the argument.  Thanks for playing.

MichaelBaeza
MichaelBaeza

If I was Morsy I would be all like "In order to ensure our security and continuing stability, the Republic will bereorganized into the first Galactic Empire, for a safe and secure society."

SKYPowers
SKYPowers

muslims always seek Enemies Not friends. 

See now all enemies attack muslims from everywhere to Eliminate islam.

ShahIslam
ShahIslam like.author.displayName 1 Like

Whether they are Mullah or Rabbi or Brahman or Evangelist, any and all of them bound to fail to bring peace on any land piece on earth in this digital era. Only religiously neutral leaders like Obama are the only hope for making the world a better place for all the global wide Nations. 

TerryClifton
TerryClifton

@ShahIslam  

Say that after Obama sends a drone to your house in Yemen, Pakistan, or Somalia, and kills your entire family..I'm sure you will feel much safer..

ShahIslam
ShahIslam

@TerryClifton @ShahIslam 

That was behind the White house sceneario, the strategy of yesterday's politics of super wealthy thugs.

Today I'm referring to tomorrows politics.

Thanks for your wise thinking and question.

Mahmoudhadi
Mahmoudhadi

The decisions and declarations announced on November 22 raise concerns for many Egyptians and for the international community. 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 current constitutional vacuum in Egypt can only be resolved by the adoption of a constitution that includes checks and balances, and respects fundamental freedoms, individual rights, and the rule of law consistent with Egypt's international commitments. We call for calm and encourage all parties to work together and call for all Egyptians to resolve their differences over these important issues peacefully and through democratic dialogue

LaVoix
LaVoix

Islam and Democracy are mutually exclusive. Morsi says Allah made him the President when really humans elected him. 

Martian_14
Martian_14 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

And American taxpayers are wasting billions of dollars with those fundamentalists.

What is the point of helping one's enemies?

George
George

It would be far better tor the Egyptians not to have elected a radical Islamist who believes in sharaia law who takes more and more freedoms away. Bur far better would be to give out and publish the true word of God, the Holy Bible, the Authorized King James Version in English. Which would also tell them of the the Lord God who can give more freedom when his word is believed and practiced. And they realize he was God manifest in the flesh who died for their sins on a cross 2000 years ago, was buried, and rose from the dead the thrird day and returned back up to heaven. And when one repents and believes the gospel they have God's gift of eternal life in heaven. That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead ; thou shalt be saved. Romans 10:9. Sincerely ;