His new near-dictatorial powers, grabbed yesterday. Seizing an auspicious moment for his presidency (having brokered the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel), Morsi issued a proclamation protecting any law or decree of his from judicial challenge (“are final and cannot be contested”), and announced that he had assumed the power to take, in one translation, “necessary procedures and measures” against any “danger threatening the Jan. 25 revolution, the life of the nation, national unity, safety of the nation, or hurdling the state institutions in performing their roles” — wording broad and vague enough that some activists claim he now has more emergency legal leeway than Mubarak had.
Further, he declared that the Islamist-dominated constitutional council also will be immune from judicial scrutiny, and has two more months to complete writing a new constitution (the judicial system in particular has been a check on consolidation of power, and liberal groups had lodged legal challenges against this constitutional council, the second of them). The courts also cannot dissolve the constitutional council or the upper house (Morsi claims courts were about to disband the latter, which is dominated by the president’s appointees and the Brotherhood’s legislators).
In response, protesters flowed back into Tahrir Square in thousands, with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowds, who responded with Molotov cocktails. A mob also burned down the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood’s party in Alexandria, Egypt’s second city. Former presidential candidates Mohamed ElBaradei, a liberal who called Morsi a “new Pharaoh” and Amr Moussa, a Mubarak foreign minister, marched with the protesters. The Telegraph describes Morsi’s response to the outcry:
[Morsi] also alleged that money stolen under the old regime was being used to fund new protests, including by “thugs” – a politically loaded term suggesting that the pro-democracy protesters were the same as Mr Mubarak’s hired henchmen.
“There are weevils eating away at the nation of Egypt,” he told them, insisting that he by contrast, was trying to assure “political stability, social stability and economic stability”.
The Telegraph is right to note, as many others have, Morsi’s use of the exact same language Mubarak once used to describe another crowd in Tahrir Square. Morsi also declared, in a speech outside the presidential palace today, “Opposition in Egypt does not worry me, but it has to be real and strong.” In more than one way, he certainly sounds like a dictator doing his best to shore up power.
By the end of the day today, there were clashes between pro-Morsi groups and protesters all over the country, and Morsi had called a meeting of his interior and defense ministers.
Today in response, the U.S. State Department issued this statement:
The decisions and declarations announced on November 22 raise concerns for many Egyptians and for the international community. One of the aspirations of the revolution was to ensure that power would not be overly concentrated in the hands of any one person or institution. The current constitutional vacuum in Egypt can only be resolved by the adoption of a constitution that includes checks and balances, and respects fundamental freedoms, individual rights, and the rule of law consistent with Egypt’s international commitments. We call for calm and encourage all parties to work together and call for all Egyptians to resolve their differences over these important issues peacefully and through democratic dialogue.
Neither Morsi nor even his office is not singled out by name, nor are any of his particular usurpations of power labeled. I noted Secretary of State Clinton’s gushing about Morsi during her visit to Cairo on Wednesday (though again, he did apparently play a major role) — yesterday’s events are not unrelated to the fact that the U.S. now relies on Morsi, and he knows it.