Egypt’s senior judges are suspending work in all courts and prosecutions until President Morsi’s unilateral decree that he is above the judiciary is reversed.
The judiciary is one of the last power centers of Mubarak-era government made up largely of members appointed by the deposed president.
The announcement by the top judges, most of whom were appointed by former President Hosni Mubarak, came after tens of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets on Friday to protest against Morsi’s decree.
The judicial body had previously urged the president on Thursday to “distance this decree from everything that violates the judicial authority”.
The new edicts give the president near-absolute power and immunity from appeals in courts for any decisions or laws he declares until a new constitution and parliament is in place.
Opponents of the decree have called for a large-scale demonstration on Tuesday. In a second day of protests on the streets of Cairo on Saturday, activists threw rocks at riot police, while a few dozen people manned makeshift barricades to keep traffic out of Tahrir Square.
The decree has polarised opinion between the newly empowered Islamists, represented by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, and their opponents. Leftwing and liberal parties have called for an open-ended sit-in aimed at “toppling” the decree.
“We are facing a historic moment in which we either complete our revolution or we abandon it to become prey for a group that has put its narrow party interests above the national interest,” the liberal Constitution party said in a statement.
Anti-Morsi demonstrators, who accuse the president of having launched a “constitutional coup” on Thursday, were reported to have set fire to the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party, to which Morsi belongs, in the Suez Canal cities of Suez and Port Said on Friday.
Clashes also erupted on Friday between the two sides in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, the southern city of Assiut and Giza, prompting Essam el-Erian, a leading figure in the FJP, to condemn the attacks as “acts of thuggery hiding behind political forces”. While in Cairo, the two opposing camps gathered in large rival rallies. In a packed Tahrir Square, youths opposed to the decree fought intermittent battles with police firing volleys of teargas outside the French Lycée and American University. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood meanwhile bussed in supporters from across the country to hear him address a rally outside the presidential palace in Heliopolis.
A brief recap of promises made by the Muslim Brotherhood in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Mubarak might be helpful.
* The MB promised to run candidates for the lower house of parliament in only 1/3 of the country. They ended up running in 70% of districts.
* The MB promised not to run a candidate for president. The ended up running 2.
* The MB promised that the panel empowered to write the new constitution would be “representative” of all parties in Egypt. The panel is more than 75% Islamist.
* The MB promised to respect the rights of Christian minorities and women. The move to Sharia law is already impacting both groups.
* The MB promised to maintain the independence of the judiciary. Morsi’s recent decrees makes a mockery of that promise.
* The MB promised to respect freedom of speech. Several journalists have already been arrested for criticizing the president, with one prominent critic receiving jail time.
In short, whatever Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood promise cannot be trusted. The people appear to have had enough and are seeking to rein in Morsi and his Salafis allies. But most citizens are tired of the political wars and want the government to do something about an economy that is a basket case.
“The big concern is that they are liars,” said Mohamed Abu Ghar, the head of the leftist Egyptian Social Democratic Party on the occasion of Morsi’s election. “I’m scared that they are going to manipulate all the key positions and key places in the military, police and in the government offices for the Brotherhood.”
A prescient statement to be sure.
And why shouldn’t they be liars? The Brotherhood was modeled after the Nazi Party in Germany where “the big lie” was used to great effect. The Egyptian people bought the lie for a while. But this move to seize power by Morsi appears to have been a catalyst to unite the opposition against him and push back against his power grabs.