Riot police and protesters throw stones at one another during clashes near Tahrir Square, Wednesday. Hundreds of demonstrators were in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for the sixth day demanding that President Mohamed Mursi rescind a decree they say gives him dictatorial powers, while two of Egypt’s top courts stopped work in protest. — Reuters
CAIRO — The decree that expanded President Mohamed Morsi’s powers and plunged Egypt into crisis came as a shock to some of his team; a step with huge legal ramifications, it appeared to have caught even his justice minister off guard.
The surprise move on Nov. 22 has fueled debate on how far the Muslim Brotherhood is dictating policy and ignoring cabinet members and others in an administration that Morsi presents as being inclusive of Egypt’s political forces and not dominated by the Islamist party whose electoral muscle put him in office.
Signs that Morsi failed to consult those formally appointed as his advisers on a decree that has set off countrywide protests and violence have given ammunition to critics.
These paint a picture of a man with autocratic impulses who either heeds only his own counsel or, what is more troubling to many, is in thrall to old friends in the Brotherhood, a movement long banned by the old regime and which many Egyptians still view with suspicion.
That is the very perception he has been trying to fight since he came to office, when the Brotherhood pledged to free Morsi of partisan pressure and he himself promised to be a president for all and to build a broad-based presidential administration. Much of that work has been undone.
“There is a lot obscurity linked to how decisions are taken in the presidency,” said Nabil Abdel Fattah, a political scientist. “There is a certain party that is taking this decision,” he said. “And the most likely answer is that it is members of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
At least two of Morsi’s advisers have resigned in the days since he issued a decree opponents see as a major threat to the country’s nascent democracy. One of them, a Christian, had the title of Morsi’s assistant for “democratic transformation”.
Like most Egyptians, Samir Morkos only learnt of what was in the decree when it was read on state television late Thursday, he told the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.
Another adviser, Emad Abdel-Ghaffour, told Reuters he had not been consulted either. Head of the hardline Islamist Nour Party, he is still serving as an adviser on “social outreach”. He is in almost daily contact with Morsi, an aide said.
“Our opinion was not sought,” Abdel-Ghaffour said of the decree, adding that he had reservations on the text, but like other Islamists, was broadly supportive of it.
Liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradei said Morsi had not given “a whiff of an indication” that he had anything of the sort in mind when they met in the days before the announcement.
“You assume that if somebody, the president, is going to take sweeping measure grabbing all powers that he will at least consult before. There was no consultation at all. That doesn’t show the best of good intentions or good will,” he told Reuters.
“He didn’t mention anything of that kind,” added Amr Moussa, the former Arab League secretary general who ran in the presidential election and met Morsi three weeks ago. He was also speaking to Reuters.
Justice Minister Ahmed Mekky, a judge broadly respected for his independence in the Mubarak era, has studiously avoided answering journalists’ questions on whether he knew about the decree in advance. He has since expressed his “reservations”. — Reuters