x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Morsi takes sweeping new powers

Fresh from his acclaimed negotiations that ended the Gaza conflict, Egypt's president sacks his prosecutor general, orders retrial of Mubarak officials and shields Islamist allies – placing himself above judicial oversight.

Mr Morsi posted on his official Twitter account:
Mr Morsi posted on his official Twitter account: "Today is the start for truly avenging the blood of the martyrs with which we have been entrusted."

CAIRO // The Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi yesterday sacked the prosecutor general, ordered a retrial of Mubarak officials and placed himself above judicial oversight.

A day after brokering a truce between Hamas and Israel, the presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said Mr Morsi would assume sweeping new powers.

"The president can issue any decision or measure to protect the revolution," Mr Ali announced on state television. "The constitutional declarations, decisions and laws issued by the president are final and not subject to appeal."

Mr Morsi posted on his official Twitter account: "Today is the start for truly avenging the blood of the martyrs with which we have been entrusted."

He decreed the Islamist-dominated panel drafting a constitution could not be dissolved by the courts, a threat that had been hanging over it.

The Egyptian Nobel laureate and opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei lashed out at the moves.

"Morsi today usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh," Mr ElBaradei wrote on Twitter. "A major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences."

Mr Morsi's decrees came as thousands of protesters gathered in Cairo for the fourth day to protest against his policies and criticise the Muslim Brotherhood.

He dismissed Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, the prosecutor general he tried to sack last month after the acquittal of 24 pro-Mubarak supporters accused of organising protests that led to the "Camel Battle" in last year's uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

Mr Mahmoud has faced widespread accusations that his office did a shoddy job collecting evidence against dozens of police who were tried and acquitted on charges of killing protesters.

The president ordered "new investigations and retrials", which could include those against senior military officials, in cases dealing with protesters' deaths.

The declaration is aimed at "cleansing state institutions" and "destroying the infrastructure of the old regime" - such as Mr Mahmoud, a Mubarak appointment.

Liberal and Christian members withdrew from the assembly drafting the new constitution in the past week to protest against what they say is hijacking of the process by Mr Morsi's allies.

They said those allies were trying to push through a document that would marginalise women and minority Christians. Several courts have been looking into cases demanding the dissolution of the panel.

The decree also gave the constitutional assembly an extra two months to complete its work, meaning the drafting process could go on until February.

Mr Morsi also granted the same protection to the upper chamber of parliament, which is largely toothless. Both bodies are dominated by his Islamist allies including the Muslim Brotherhood, of which he was a longtime member.

"No judicial authority can dissolve Shura council or constitutional assembly," Mr Ali said.

Parliament's lower chamber, also dominated by Islamists, was dissolved in June by a court decision on the grounds that the rules governing its election were illegal.

Even before that pronouncement was read out, Islamists had gathered outside the high court in central Cairo demanding the "cleansing of the judiciary".

Mubarak was convicted in June to life in prison for failing to stop the killing of protesters during last year's uprising against his rule.

But many Egyptians were angered that he was not convicted of ordering the clampdown and that his security chief, Habib El Adly, was not sentenced to death.

Several top police commanders were acquitted, and Mubarak and his sons were found not guilty of corruption charges.

Egyptians also took to Twitter to voice their opposition to the declarations.

"What's the difference between Morsi and Mubarak?" said Nour El Dean Refaat. "Mubarak knew he was a devil but didn't think he was God."

Another said Mr Morsi "had this in mind all along - build up political capital with the US, now he can spend it internally. Much like Mubarak."

Others disagreed. Samah Abdullah said: "Morsi's decisions remind me of chemotherapy to remove cancers! Painful, poisonous but necessary."

* With reporting by Agence France-Presse and Associated Press