Egyptian courts speak against president's assumption of power

 

Cairo, Egypt

Egypt's association of judges called Saturday for the judicial system to come to a halt to fight an assertion of near-absolute power by the nation's first democratically elected president, setting the stage for a confrontation between the courts and a man who has said his will is not subject to appeal.

Judges across the country vowed to strike, and lawyers filed several legal challenges to the move by President Mohammed Morsi, who has said he is assuming broad powers temporarily to combat entrenched remnants of the former authoritarian government. The constitutional court, meanwhile, hinted that it may weigh in on the matter, directly challenging the man who has tried to sideline them.

The dispute — which was rapidly emerging as a divide between Egypt's secularists and political Islamists — showed no sign of diminishing Saturday, raising questions about Egypt's fragile democratic transition.

With hundreds of protesters camping out in Tahrir Square and vowing not to leave until the president rescinds his decrees, and Morsi's Islamist backers and his opponents both planning to mobilize dueling demonstrations in the coming week, compromise was nowhere in sight.

In a Cairo hall packed with lawyers and judges, the man who was prosecutor general until Morsi booted him from office Thursday vowed that he would fight the sidelining of the courts if it cost him his life.

"These groups do not know what is righteous," Abdel Meguid Mahmoud said to cheers. An appointee of former president Hosni Mubarak, Mahmoud has presided over the acquittals of many officials of the old autocratic government, and Islamists and liberal revolutionaries alike had wanted him gone. On Saturday, however, many of those secularists found themselves on his side, with the country's leading liberal politicians and human rights organizations uniting in opposition to Morsi's measures.

Outside the country's main administrative courts, protesters fought with police, who fired tear gas at them. Egypt's judges' association, many of whose members were appointed by Mubarak, called the moves an "unprecedented assault on the judiciary," and the head of the judges' group in the coastal city of Alexandria said that courts there were already on strike.

Morsi issued his decrees just a day after garnering international praise for helping bring about a cease-fire between the Gaza Strip and Israel following a week of bloody conflict. That enthusiasm quickly dimmed after his announcement, including in the United States, where the State Department said Friday that the actions "raise concerns." But it was not clear whether U.S. officials would be willing to jeopardize Egypt's role as a broker between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers by pushing too hard on the domestic front.

Morsi has said that the steps were necessary to prevent what he termed a small group of "weevils" from eating away at democratic gains of the past two years. The constitutional court had appeared poised to dissolve within weeks the body writing a new constitution, as well as the Islamist-dominated upper house of parliament. The court had already dismissed the lower house in June, shortly before Morsi was inaugurated. He has said he will give up his powers once a new constitution and parliament are in place.

"All the obstacles that have occurred during the transitional period . . . were made by remnants of the former regime to discredit the revolution and hinder its movement," the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing, a Morsi ally, said in a statement Saturday.

Morsi backers said that the constitutional court had been harming democracy, not helping it, by issuing dramatic rulings that shut down new institutions as they emerged.

The constitutional court, meanwhile, held an emergency meeting of its own Saturday. It said afterward that it was not going to comment on the edicts because legal cases "might be referred to the court concerning the constitutional declaration."

But that in itself was a challenge to Morsi, since his emendations to Egypt's transitional constitution said that no court was permitted to question any of his decisions. Legal analysts said that if the court finds that the president is not permitted to amend the constitution, it may also have to void an August decision by Morsi to strip the military of its power to declare legislation.

"Egypt has gone so far into a constitutional twilight zone . . . you make up the rules as you go along," said Elijah Zarwan, a Cairo-based Egypt expert at the European Center for Foreign Relations. "Basically, between Morsi and the Constitutional Court there is a confrontation of dueling legitimacies."

- - -

Amer Shakhatreh contributed to this report.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her