Morsi Tells Judges New Powers Are Temporary
CAIRO (WSJ): Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi tried to contain the fallout from his decision last week to expand his powers by meeting with the country’s top judges Monday and issuing a statement that attempted to qualify the scope of his edict.
Yasser Ali, Mr. Morsi’s spokesman, said the president asked that only his sovereign decisions be immune from judicial review. Mr. Ali also said that Mr. Morsi assured judges that his decree is “temporary” and limited only to “sovereignty-related issues.”
Mr. Ali said Mr. Morsi’s responded to the concerns of the judges by assuring them that he has “the utmost respect for the judicial authority and its members and takes into account its immunity and specialties.”
Asked if there were any changes to Mr. Morsi’s decree, Mr. Yasser said no.
The meeting between Mr. Morsi and members of the Supreme Judiciary Council is seen as a bid to resolve a four-day crisis that has plunged the country into a new round of turmoil with clashes between the two sides that have left one protester dead and hundreds wounded.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr Monday to underscore U.S. hopes that Egypt’s political crisis can be resolved in a democratic manner, the State Department said.
The attempts by Mr. Morsi to clarify the scope of his new powers didn’t seem to satisfy his critics.
The judiciary, the main target of Mr. Morsi’s edicts, has called the decrees a power grab and an “assault” on the branch’s independence. Judges and prosecutors stayed away from many courts in Cairo and other cities on Sunday and Monday.
In a statement following Mr. Ali’s televised comments, Egypt’s judge’s club said judges and prosecuting attorneys would continue their strike.
Gamal Eid, an attorney and founder of the Cairo-based advocacy group the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, said that Mr. Ali’s statement didn’t represent a climb down by Egypt’s president.
“Morsi made the meeting with the counsel of judges, but it was not successful. But the president needed to say something about the meeting because people were waiting for the result but there was no result,” said Mr. Eid. “So he said something like ‘the sun came from the East.’ It doesn’t change anything.”
“The declaration is still as a dictator’s declaration,” said Mr. Eid. “Morsi now has a dictatorship.”
The presidential spokesman said Mr. Morsi told the judges that he acted within his right as the nation’s sole source of legislation when he issued decrees putting himself above judicial oversight. The president also extended the same immunity to two bodies dominated by his Islamist allies—a panel drafting a new constitution and parliament’s mostly toothless upper chamber.
The spokesman, Yasser Ali, also told reporters that Mr. Morsi assured the judges that the decrees didn’t in any way “infringe” on the judiciary.
The dispute is the latest crisis to roil the Arab world’s most populous nation, which has faced mass protests, a rise in crime and economic woes since the initial euphoria following the popular uprising that ousted Mubarak after nearly 30 years of autocratic rule.
Opposition activists have denounced Mr. Morsi’s decrees as a blatant power grab, and refused to enter a dialogue with the presidency before the edicts are rescinded. The president has vigorously defended the new powers, saying they are a necessary temporary measure to implement badly needed reforms and protect Egypt’s transition to democracy after last year’s ouster of his predecessor Hosni Mubarak.
A spokesman of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood says it has canceled a planned mass rally Tuesday in support of Mr. Morsi’s assumption of sweeping powers.
Thousands gathered in Damanhoor Monday for the funeral procession of 15-year-old Islam Abdel-Maksoud, who was killed Sunday when a group of anti-Morsi protesters tried to storm the local offices of the political arm of the president’s fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most powerful political group.