Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi
Maya Alleruzzo, Associated Press
Egypt's president unilaterally seizes wide-ranging powers
- Article by: MICHAEL BIRNBAUM
- Washington Post
- November 22, 2012 - 9:23 PM
CAIRO - Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi took extensive new powers for himself on Thursday, freeing his decisions from judicial review and threatening retrials for former top officials, including ex-president Hosni Mubarak.
The decree, issued a day after Morsi won international praise for fostering a cease-fire in Gaza, appears to leave few if any checks on his power. The president said all of the decisions he has made since he took office in June -- and until a new constitution is adopted and a parliament elected -- were final and not subject to appeal or review.
The announcement, read on state television by Morsi's spokesman and broadcast repeatedly, accompanied by nationalistic songs, shocked many in this struggling country and street protests quickly erupted.
Morsi's broad assertion of control came less than 24 hours after a diplomatic triumph in arranging the cease-fire in Gaza had given new credence to Morsi's international bona fides. And it raised questions about whether the country might be headed to a return of its Mubarak-era arrangement on the world stage: a country praised for bringing stability to a volatile region and tolerated for abusing rights at home.
Muslim Brotherhood officials, with whom Morsi is allied, said the measures were necessary to ensure the country's full return to democracy. "This level of immunity for presidential decrees is indeed unprecedented, but it is necessary and it is controlled by a time frame" that ends with the election of a new parliament, said Gehad el-Haddad, a senior Muslim Brotherhood adviser.
But the decision raised concerns among many liberal activists who had already been worried that Morsi had taken a distinctly authoritarian air in the three months since he swept out the top ranks of the military and sidelined what had long been a powerful independent institution in Egypt. Egypt's short-lived parliament was dismissed by the country's high court shortly before Morsi took power, so legislative powers also are concentrated under the president. Taking the courts out of the equation means there will be no judicial review of Morsi's decisions.
Morsi was elected in June, narrowly triumphing over a Mubarak-era cabinet minister, Ahmed Shafiq, with 52 percent of the vote.
"The president may take the necessary actions and measures to protect the country and the goals of the revolution," the decree said.
"Morsi today usurped all state powers & appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh," wrote former liberal presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei on Twitter. "A major blow to the revolution that [could] have dire consequences."
The implications on the international stage seemed less clear, and any U.S. response was muted because of the Thanksgiving holiday. Just hours before the announcement, Morsi had been winning plaudits from Israel, Hamas and the United States for having brokered a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood offshoot that rules the Palestinian enclave of the Gaza Strip. Over Tuesday and Wednesday, Morsi and President Obama spoke by telephone three times, White House officials said.
"Morsi chose an interesting time to issue this decree, right after this success with the Gaza cease-fire," said Shadi Hamid, an Egypt expert at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. "In some ways, there is a real danger of returning to the Mubarak-era situation where the U.S. really cares about the foreign policy and turns a blind eye to domestic abuses."
But Hamid also noted that Morsi has had broad power since August but had not frequently exercised it. In the decree, Morsi declared the retrial of senior officials accused in the deaths of protesters during the 2011 revolution. And he dismissed the Mubarak-era prosecutor general, immediately swearing in a new one. He also said the Islamist-dominated body that is drafting a new constitution could not be dismissed and extended its mandate by two months, to February. The constitution is expected to be put to a referendum, followed by legislative elections.
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