Sunday, November 25, 2012

Egypt's Power Struggle Intensifies

Popularly elected Egyptian President President Mohammed Morsi
After being praised internationally for his role in brokering the recent truce between Israel and Palestine, popularly elected Egyptian President Morsi decreed new presidential powers which gave him the authority to create, temporarily, any law or decree to "protect the revolution", take necessary steps to stop "threats to the revolution," and make himself immune from judiciary oversight. In addition, President Morsi removed Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, the prosecutor general first appointed by Mubarak, and who has been accused of not adequately prosecuting Mubarak regime officials.

With just the fall of Hosni Mubarak through the 2011/2012 popular Egyptian uprising, Egypt was still left with pro-Mubarak officials in the government, including the military and judiciary. Consequently, with the election of a majority of the Muslim Brotherhood to the parliament's lower house and the election of President Morsi, a natural, inevitable conflict has emerged. The Egyptian judiciary comprised of many Mubarak appointments and with affiliations to Mubarak dissolved the elected lower house of parliament and are considering to disband the assembly writing of the new constitution. President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood party, Freedom and Justice, believe that the judiciary is trying to erode the elected institutions and dissolve the constitutional assembly (parliament's upper house).

The Egyptian revolution was blunted by the mere removal of Hosni Mubarak, and rather than a removal of the whole dictatorial regime.

It appears that President Morsi had no choice than to confront the judiciary directly rather than let the country continue to stagnate. The Egyptian judiciary has a very poor track record as it stood by relatively silent during the 30 year Mubarak dictatorship in which Egypt functioned with 0 percent electoral fairness (2011 FDA Audit) and significant human rights abuses. Obviously, the separation of government bodies is essential to a healthy functioning society, but by the same token a corrupt judiciary is likely just as harmful as no separation of powers.

Considering the circumstances, Egyptians will have to give their President the benefit of doubt that the new presidential decrees are temporary and necessary to progress the country.

Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director

FDA Media Advisory on Egypt

Egypt's Presidential Election Exposing Political Power Struggle

Question for Readers:

Do you think President Mori's recent presidential decrees were necessary measures to break the deadlock with the pro-Mubarak Egyptian judiciary?


Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi's decree blasted by judges

Courts across two provinces announce strike, but Muslim Brotherhood calls for mass protest in Cairo on Tuesday to show support for president

South China Morning Post (November 24, 2012)

Egyptian judges yesterday slammed a decree by President Mohammed Mursi granting him sweeping powers as "an unprecedented attack" on the judiciary, while courts across two provinces announced a strike.

At the same time, Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood called for a mass demonstration in Cairo on Tuesday to show support for the president, who is facing a storm of protest for issuing the decree.

The Brotherhood also called for shows of support in squares across Egypt after early evening prayers today.

Parties opposed to the decree have urged a protest on Tuesday in Cairo, though in a different square from the one where the Brotherhood called on its supporters to gather.

Meanwhile, the Judges Club of Alexandria announced "the suspension of work in all courts and prosecution administrations in the provinces of Alexandria and Beheira". The Alexandria judges "will accept nothing less than the cancellation" of Mursi's decree, which violates the principle of separation of power, chief Mohammed Ezzat al-Agwa said.

In Cairo, a general assembly of judges was holding emergency talks to decide on a response to the presidential decree.

The constitutional declaration is "an unprecedented attack on the independence of the judiciary and its rulings," the Supreme Judicial Council said after an emergency meeting.

Mursi's declaration, which acts as a temporary charter, allows him to issue any law or decree "to protect the revolution" that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year, with no decision or law subject to challenge in court.

In Cairo, a statement by about 20 "independent judges" said that while some of the decisions taken by the president were a response to popular demands, they were issued "at the expense of freedom and democracy".

Mursi's assumption of sweeping powers is seen as a blow to the pro-democracy movement that ousted Mubarak, but his backers say his move will cut back a turbulent and seemingly endless transition to democracy.

In the space of 24 hours last week Mursi was praised internationally for brokering a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza and slammed at home as a "new pharaoh" who had seized dictatorial powers.

Mursi was sworn into office in July after a narrow poll victory that was a triumph not only for democracy but also for the long-banned Brotherhood, the world's oldest Islamist movement. However, the Islamists, including ultraconservative Salafis who oppose the president, and their enemies are now deadlocked, so the decision to impose a solution on old-regime judges is likely to cause more trouble.

Abdallah Homouda, of Egypt's leading independent newspaper, al-Masry al-Youm, said: "There is an issue about the balance of power between the Brotherhood and the nationalists and liberals, who appear unable to unify themselves. The fear is, that will leave the Brotherhood in a dominant position."

Commentator Elijah Zarwan said: "Mursi inherited a country with a great number of very serious problems that nobody could address in months, or very possibly in years. He came to power at a time when Egypt and the region were in crisis.

"His handling of some of these issues, including the war in Gaza, was effective and even surprisingly adroit. In other cases he has made mistakes. His handling of the judiciary has probably been his biggest. It is very difficult to see how he can climb down."

Egypt reformist warns of turmoil from Morsi decree

CAIRO (AP) — Prominent Egyptian democracy advocate Mohammed ElBaradei
warned Saturday of increasing turmoil that could potentially lead to the military stepping in unless the Islamist president rescinds his new, near absolute powers, as the country's long fragmented opposition sought to unite and rally new protests.

Egypt's liberal and secular forces — long divided, weakened and uncertain amid the rise of Islamist parties to power — are seeking to rally themselves in response to the decrees issued this week by President Mohammed Morsi. The president granted himself sweeping powers to "protect the revolution" and made himself immune to judicial oversight.

The judiciary, which was the main target of Morsi's edicts, pushed back Saturday. The country's highest body of judges, the Supreme Judical Council, called his decrees an "unprecedented assault." Courts in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria announced a work suspension until the decrees are lifted.

Outside the high court building in Cairo, several hundred demonstrators rallied against Morsi, chanting, "Leave! Leave!" echoing the slogan used against former leader Hosni Mubarak in last year's uprising that ousted him. Police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of young men who were shooting flares outside the court.

The edicts issued Wednesday have galvanized anger brewing against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, from which he hails, ever since he took office in June as Egypt's first freely elected president. Critics accuse the Brotherhood — which has dominated elections the past year — and other Islamists of monopolizing power and doing little to bring real reform or address Egypt's mounting economic and security woes.

Oppositon groups have called for new nationwide rallies Tuesday — and the Muslim Brotherhood has called for rallies supporting Morsi the same day, setting the stage for new violence.

Morsi supporters counter that the edicts were necessary to prevent the courts, which already dissolved the elected lower house of parliament, from further holding up moves to stability by disbanding the assembly writing the new constitution, as judges were considering doing. Like parliament was, the assembly is dominated by Islamists. Morsi accuses Mubarak loyalists in the judiciary of seeking to thwart the revolution's goals and barred the judiciary from disbanding the constitutional assembly or parliament's upper house.

In an interview with a handful of journalists, including The Associated Press, Nobel Peace laureate ElBaradei raised alarm over the impact of Morsi's rulings, saying he had become "a new pharaoh."

"There is a good deal of anger, chaos, confusion. Violence is spreading to many places and state authority is starting to erode slowly," he said. "We hope that we can manage to do a smooth transition without plunging the country into a cycle of violence. But I don't see this happening without Mr. Morsi rescinding all of this."

Speaking of Egypt's powerful military, ElBaradei said, "I am sure they are as worried as everyone else. You cannot exclude that the army will intervene to restore law and order" if the situation gets out of hand.

But anti-Morsi factions are chronically divided, with revolutionary youth activists, new liberal political parties that have struggled to build a public base and figures from the Mubarak era, all of whom distrust each other. The judiciary is also an uncomfortable cause for some to back, since it includes many Mubarak appointees who even Morsi opponents criticize as too tied to the old regime.

Opponents say the edicts gave Morsi near dictatorial powers, neutering the judiciary when he already holds both executive and legislative powers. One of his most controversial edicts gave him the right to take any steps to stop "threats to the revolution," vague wording that activists say harkens back to Mubarak-era emergency laws.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in nationwide protests on Friday, sparking clashes between anti-and pro-Morsi crowds in several cities that left more than 200 people wounded.

On Saturday, new clashed broke out in the southern city of Assiut. Morsi opponents and members of the Muslim Brotherhood swung sticks and threw stones at each other outside the offices of the Brotherhood's political party, leaving at least seven injured.

ElBaradei and a six other prominent liberal leaders have announced the formation of a National Salvation Front aimed at rallying all non-Islamist groups together to force Morsi to rescind his edicts.

The National Salvation Front leadership includes several who ran against Morsi in this year's presidential race — Hamdeen Sabahi, who finished a close third, former foreign minister Amr Moussa and moderate Islamist Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh. ElBaradei says the group is also pushing for the creation of a new constitutional assembly and a unity government.

ElBaradei said it would be a long process to persuade Morsi that he "cannot get away with murder."

"There is no middle ground, no dialogue before he rescinds this declaration. There is no room for dialogue until then."

The grouping seems to represent a newly assertive political foray by ElBaradei, the former chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency. ElBaradei returned to Egypt in the year before Mubarak's fall, speaking out against his rule, and was influential with many of the youth groups that launched the anti-Mubarak revolution.

But since Mubarak's fall, he has been criticized by some as too Westernized, elite and Hamlet-ish, reluctant to fully assert himself as an opposition leader.

The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice political party, once headed by Morsi, said Saturday in a statement that the president's decision protects the revolution against former regime figures who have tried to erode elected institutions and were threatening to dissolve the constitutional assembly.

The Brotherhood warned in another statement that there were forces trying to overthrow the elected president in order to return to power. It said Morsi has a mandate to lead, having defeated one of Mubarak's former prime ministers this summer in a closely contested election.

Morsi's edicts also removed Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, the prosecutor general first appointed by Mubarak, who many Egyptians accused of not prosecuting former regime figures strongly enough.

Speaking to a gathering of judges cheering support for him at the high court building in Cairo, Mahmoud warned of a "vicious campaign" against state institutions. He also said judicial authorities are looking into the legality of the decision to remove him — setting up a Catch-22 of legitimacy, since under Morsi's decree, the courts cannot overturn any of his decisions.

"I thank you for your support of judicial independence," he told the judges.

"Morsi will have to reverse his decision to avoid the anger of the people," said Ahmed Badrawy, a labor ministry employee protesting at the courthouse. "We do not want to have an Iranian system here," he added, referring to fears that hardcore Islamists may try to turn Egypt into a theocracy.

Several hundred protesters remained in Cairo's Tahrir Square Saturday, where a number of tents have been erected in a sit-in following nearly a week of clashes with riot police.

Brian Rohan contributed to this report from Cairo.

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