As protesters take to the streets in Egypt to condemn President Mohammed Morsi for instituting new decrees that give him ultimate authority over the judiciary, the underlying issue at stake in the fragile new government is how much power the ultra-religious Islamists will have to embed their conservative beliefs into the nation’s constitution.
As a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, President Morsi is eager to give Islamists as much power as possible, but he is being opposed by the more liberal secular forces in Egypt and also by a judiciary that is still loyal to ousted former President Hosni Mubarak. The nation’s judges have been the most vocal in their opposition to Morsi’s decrees, saying his decision to grant himself these powers that would put him above the judiciary is an “unprecedented attack.”
The struggle is about the nature of the Egyptian lifestyle for years to come: Will the country allow Islamists to dominate the government, as has happened in other North African and Arab nations, which will likely lead to a diminishing of human rights for the citizenry, or will the more liberal secular forces win the day? The outcome could have a substantial effect on the day-to-day freedoms of the Egyptian public.
Morsi’s most vocal opponents are the Judges’ Club, understandably since it is the judiciary that Morsi hit with a decree that clearly shows his lack of trust in the nation’s judges. Morsi believes the judges are trying to stop the process of finishing the constitution.
“With the president giving himself the right to issue decrees or rules that are binding and can not be appealed, they’re saying that never in the history of modern Egypt has there been a president who gave himself so many powers,” said Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid.
While Morsi’s constitutional decree does say that his new powers are temporary and in effect only until a new Egyptian constitution is written, gone to referendum and a new parliament is voted in, many of his critics don’t seem to believe him.
“The judges say…what is the guarantee that it is for a temporary amount of time. They say you can not have a president who is accountable to no one,” said Abdel-Hamid.
After Morsi’s announcement on Thursday, there were large protests across Egypt on Friday. On Saturday, demonstrators on Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square threw rocks at security forces, who fired back with tear gas.
Morsi said on Friday that he was trying to root out “weevils eating away at the nation of Egypt.”
“I don’t like, want or need to resort to exceptional measures, but I will if I see that my people, nation and the revolution of Egypt are in danger,” he said to his supporters. “I don’t want to have all the powers…but if I see my nation in danger, I will do and I will act. I must.”
Morsi is trying to take advantage of a surge in his popularity after mediating a truce between Hamas and Israel. He ordered on Thursday that an assembly dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood writing the new constitution could not be dissolved by legal challenges. But the liberal and secular members earlier walked out of the body, charging it would impose strict Islamic practices.
Opposition leaders called for a “million-man march”—a clear reference to the Washington march staged by African-American men nearly 20 years ago— to protest against what they say is a coup by Morsi, bringing thousands into the streets.
On Friday, protesters were calling for the fall of Morsi’s government and the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Among the protesters was Mohamed ElBaradei, the democracy advocate and Nobel Peace laureate, who called on Morsi to rescind the decree. The former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency tweeted that Morsi had “appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh.”
Protester Ahmed Moamen told the Associated Press he felt betrayed by Morsi. “I am not happy with actions of the Muslim Brotherhood and of Morsi,” he said. “I am one of the people who voted for Morsi, but I am disappointed in him.”