Ahmed Fahmi, chairman of the Islamist-dominated Shura Council (the upper, consultative house of Egypt's parliament), seized on Thursday's council session to criticise the constitutional declaration issued by President Mohamed Morsi on 22 November.
"We had hopes that President Morsi would put the constitutional declaration before a national referendum," Fahmi said. He also argued that the declaration "has severely divided the nation into Islamists and civilians." Fahmi urged Morsi to conduct a national dialogue with all forces to put an end to the crisis triggered by the declaration.
Fahmi’s comments came as a surprise to many, given that not only is the chairman of the Shura Council a leading member of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) – the political arm of Muslim Brotherhood from which Morsi hails – but he is also a relative of Morsi himself.
In its brief debate over Morsi’s declaration, the council itself was divided into supporters and opponents. Islamists, led by FJP and the ultraconservative Salafist Nour Party, hailed Morsi’s declaration.
Tarek El-Sehari, a Salafist and the deputy Shura Council chairman, said the declaration "is a necessity, with a view to the fact that the Mubarak-appointed judges and prosecutors failed to refer the diehards of the former regime to trial or put a stop to their attempts to dissolve the Shura Council and the constitution-drafting assembly, and have indulged in thuggery and hooliganism under the banner of commemorating the revolution."
"These criminals can never be branded as 'revolutionary forces' and should rather be sent to trial as required by the constitutional declaration," said El-Sehary. "Everyone has the right to criticise the president, but nobody – especially those who failed to secure seats in the last parliamentary elections – has the right to attack public property or incite violence."
El-Sehary sharply directed attacks against those who "resorted to insults" when criticising Morsi’s declaration. He argued that the building of a new Egypt should not come at the expense of putting obstacles in the way of a democratically-elected president.
Ezzeddin El-Qomi, a leading FJP official, opened fire on the independent Judges’ Club, arguing that it "is only a social club, which should be concerned with achieving the personal needs of its members rather than becoming a political forum for judges."
The Judges’ Union announced yesterday that courts would organise a strike to protest Morsi’s declaration.
According to El-Qomi, Morsi’s declaration is aimed at thwarting internal and international conspiracies to destabilize Egypt. "This declaration is a necessity, but it came too late because some judicial authorities are doing their best to dissolve all elected institutions – especially parliament," he said.
Tarek Mostafa, another FJP member, said the constitutional declaration "simply aims to ensure stability for a temporary period of time until a new parliament is elected." He sharply attacked "those who launched terrorist attacks and torched the headquarters of the FJP in several cities across Egypt."
Saad Emara, another FJP member, fired a barrage of attacks against the European Union and the US, "which rushed to criticise the declaration" and "the bad coverage by private television satellite channels." He added: "This demonstrates that our enemies are doing their best to meddle in our own affairs and cause instability."
For their part, representatives of liberal parties agreed that President Morsi made a big mistake by issuing his 22 November constitutional declaration.
Mostafa Hammouda, the representative of the Wafd party, said: "Morsi’s declaration has left the nation more divided than before." "The fact that Morsi is a democratically-elected president does not mean that he acts like a pharaoh and puts himself above state institutions, especially the judiciary," he said.
Nagi El-Shehabi, another civilian and chairman of the Geel (Generation) Party, argued that "not only Morsi broke the constitutional oath, but he also divided the nation. Instead of making a dialogue with all political forces, Morsi opted to resort to the pharaohnic style of dictating policies on the nation."
Ihab El-Kharat, a member of the Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party, wondered that "Morsi’s declaration would open the door for revolutionary trials under the guise of punishing those guilty of killing rebels." He added: "I do not know how these trials will be conducted and what guarantees of fair trial will be provided to defendants." He warned: "Some revolutionary trials in some countries turned out to be tools against innocent people and committed crimes against humanity."
El-Kharat argued that Morsi was not authorised to issue his 22 November declaration. "He does not have the authority to fire the prosecutor-general or appoint a new one instead of him, not to mention that the declaration is a strike against the independence of the judiciary," said El-Kharat. He concluded that "Morsi, by concentrating all powers in his hands, will never be able to achieve any of the revolution’s goals." He expressed fears that "the declaration will be used to detain critics of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood group rather than safeguard the revolution against its enemies."