Morsi declaration hailed by supporters, deemed 'coup' by opposition

Ahram Online, Thursday 22 Nov 2012

Thursday's constitutional declaration sparks fierce debate, with supporters calling it 'revolutionary' and detractors slamming the sweeping powers it grants Egypt's presidency

Supporters of President Mohamed Morsi in Tahrir Square, following his election victory, 30 June (Photo: Reuters)

President Mohamed Morsi's latest constitutional declaration has reignited debate over presidential powers and the relationship between the Egyptian executive and judiciary.

The constitutional document announced that all presidential declarations, laws and decrees are immune to appeal "by any way or by any entity."

It also protects Egypt's controversy-prone Constituent Assembly and Shura Council (upper house of parliament) from dissolution, effectively pre-empting the verdicts of ongoing appeals that might see either body declared unconstitutional.

Moreover, the president dismissed the current prosecutor-general and appointed in his place Judge Talaat Ibrahim Mohamed Abdullah, a former deputy head of Egypt's Court of Cassation.

Abdullah replaces Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, who was recently at loggerheads with Morsi over a presidential decision to remove him from his post.

Finally, the declaration stipulates the retrial of former regime figures and those accused of killing or injuring protesters during and after last year's Tahrir Square uprising.

In response to the announcement, Mahmoud Ghozlan, official spokesperson of the Muslim Brotherhood, stated that it was a "revolutionary decision," Al-Ahram's Arabic-language news website reported.  

He defended the declaration's article protecting the Constituent Assembly, even though thousands of protesters repeatedly took to streets over the past month to call for the dissolution of the constitution-writing body.

Ghozlan stated that while this is a public expression of opinion that should be respected, it is nevertheless unlawful and goes against the legislative principles of the constitution.

Reiterating this, chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party's legislative committee Mokhtar El-Ashry claimed that "it is clear from the current decree that the People's Assembly will be reinstated."

He further asserted that the decision was "constitutional" since it was announced in the form of a constitutional decree.

Speaking to Ahram Online, prominent Brotherhood member Ali Abdel-Fattah stated that the president "has full rights as a democratically elected leader" to initiate a declaration, especially in the absence of a legislative body.

He further added this was not the first time that such an official had taken such a decision, adding that late president Gamal Abdel-Nasser had done this. 

"As long as he is democratically elected, he has all the rights to issue such a declaration," Abdel-Fattah stressed.

Abdel-Fattah further emphasised that the declaration fulfils what he said were "popular demands" by many citizens, referencing protesters' calls for justice for slain protesters and the retrial of those responsible for killing or injuring revolutionaries.

He stated that the declaration had followed Thursday's verdict by a Cairo Criminal Court acquitting two policemen who were accused of killing five protesters and injuring seven others during last year's popular uprising.

"This is the minimum guarantee expected by the people," Abdel-Fattah asserted.

The people have repeatedly called for retribution, he continued, which has been answered with the replacement of the prosecutor-general.  

Abdel-Fattah said he did not see the presence of Brotherhood supporters in front of Egypt's Supreme Court an hour before the announcement of the declaration as suspicious, as there had been reports at least two hours beforehand that an important announcement would be made by Morsi.

The Brotherhood's official website, Ikhwanonline, reported that Walid Shoraby, official spokesperson of the reformist judges club, "Judges for Egypt," had commended Morsi's decision to replace Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, "who had let the martyr's blood spill in vain and let those responsible for their killing go free."

A group of activists who formed the Revolution's Board of Trustees following the January 25 Revolution also commended the Brotherhood's decisions, stating that it was in line with revolutionary demands for justice and retribution.

In a statement published by the group following the decree, they said that the steps taken in the decree were long overdue.

Opposition denounce 'fascist' measures

Many have, however, slammed the declaration, denouncing it as "fascist" and largely regressive.

Some commentators also claim it is a tactic used to appease supporters while embedding undemocratic principles in the constitutional infrastructure of the state.

"It's a power grab from the judiciary and opens up another fight with the judicial system," American University in Cairo law professor Amr Shalakany told Ahram online. "You have a president who has accumulated legislative, executive, constituent and now judicial authorities – which is more power than any Egyptian president has had in history. It's more than Mubarak had."

Shalakany went on to comment on Article 6, in particular, which says the "president may take the necessary actions and measures to protect the country and the goals of the revolution" and places the president as the sovereign of the state, as he can "claim exception against all rules."

"Sadat used this in 1979 and 1980 to round up all opposition figures and sign a peace treaty with Israel. It's worse than the Emergency Law, as that comes with procedures and rules – this allows Morsi to do what he wants."

Leader of the Popular Current movement and former Nasserist presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi called for an urgent meeting at 9pm to discuss the decree with a number of key opposition figures, including Mohamed ElBaradei, at Wafd Party headquarters.

Meanwhile, the declaration sparked a flurry of criticism on Twitter.

ElBaradei, who founded the Constitution Party, said on his official Twitter account that Morsi had appointed himself as Egypt's "new pharaoh" and "usurped all state power: a major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences."

TV host Bothaina Kamel denounced the president’s decision to protect his decrees from any court as an unprecedented constitutional coup.

Former MP and political science professor Amr Hamzawy believed that the only outcome of this constitutional declaration would be a "complete presidential dictatorship."

"We are facing a scary coup against legislative authority and state of law," he wrote, "It is the complete assassination of democratic transition."

At the inauguration of the Conference Party, which former presidential candidate Amr Moussa founded, he slammed the decisions of Morsi.

"I fear more clashes will take place after the decision of Morsi to dismiss the public prosecutor," Moussa said, adding that Egypt needed more stability. 

"There will be no return to dictatorship, as Egyptians will not accept a dictatorship again," said the ex-secretary-general of the Arab League.

Former Brotherhood leading figure Tharwat El-Kherbawy, who is known for his anti-Brotherhood views, asserted that no Egyptian authority or institution would be able to revise the decisions of the president except the Supreme Guidance Bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The decision comes a day after the president was praised for brokering a truce between Hamas and Israel following a week-long military offensive by the Israeli armed forces on the besieged territory.

The declaration was also announced amid ongoing clashes between protesters and police on Cairo's flashpoint Mohamed Mahmoud Street.

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