Home inContext Morsi’s Broad Decree Brings Unrest to Egypt

Morsi’s Broad Decree Brings Unrest to Egypt

Michael Johnson

Opponents of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi rallied in Tahrir Square for a fifth day Tuesday in response to the president’s decree last week giving the executive branch significantly more power. That decree has sparked the most serious unrest across Egypt since the revolution.

The Egyptian president’s new declaration gives himself broad powers at the expense of the judiciary; laws and decisions made by the president are final and cannot be questioned or overturned by the courts. The president can also take any steps necessary to safeguard the “revolution, life of the nation or national unity.” In addition, the judiciary can no longer dissolve parliament or the Constituent Assembly — tasked with writing the constitution and the current subject of a court case questioning its legality. In effect, Morsi’s measures free the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists in the executive and legislative branches from judicial oversight while the Islamist-dominated parliament writes a new constitution.

Egyptian protesters attend an opposition rally in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012. (Photo: AP/Khalil Hamra)

One day after giving himself such powers, thousands gathered in Tahrir Square, chanting statements toward Morsi similar to those aimed at their former president: “Leave, leave,” and “The people want to topple the regime.” Meanwhile, police used tear gas to disperse activists throwing rocks outside the Egyptian Parliament and protesters set fire to the Muslim Brotherhood’s political headquarters in Alexandria. The health ministry recorded over 100 injuries nationwide as a result of the unrest, and one person has died.

According to government officials, Morsi seeks to protect the Egyptian parliament’s writing of the new constitution from Mubarak-era judges who may dissolve the body. Aside from the strong reaction in the streets, the nation’s judges have threatened to strike and the Egyptian stock market on Sunday dropped almost 10%. It saw a modest 2.5% rebound on Monday.

Morsi thus far has not budged from his position: After the administration said over the weekend that it would seek “common ground” with other parties, on Monday the president told Egypt’s top judicial body that the changes he made are within his authority and will stay in place. It remains to be seen whether Morsi’s move is truly a fight against Mubarak-era officials or a fight to control the democratic process that helped bring the president to power. Either way, after all the support it has shown Egypt since its revolution, Washington should not accept an undemocratic Egypt by any means, and should make that position very clear to Morsi.