CAIRO – Rival protests erupted on Friday, November 23, after Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi issued a new decree exempting all his decisions from legal challenge until a new parliament was elected, with supporters praising it as speeding up a protracted transition and opponents accusing him of being the new pharaoh.
“Political stability, social stability and economic stability are what I want and that is what I am working for,” Morsi told a huge Islamist rally outside the presidential palace, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.
“I have always been, and still am, and will always be, God willing, with the pulse of the people, what the people want, with clear legitimacy,” he said from a podium before thousands of supporters.
Morsi on Thursday ordered that the assembly writing the new constitution could not be dissolved by legal challenges.
He also sacked the unpopular general prosecutor and opened the door for a retrial for Mubarak and his aides.
The president's decree aimed to end the logjam and push Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation, more quickly on its democratic path, the presidential spokesman said.
The president's decree said any decrees he issued while no parliament sat could not be challenged, moves that consolidated his power but look set to polarize Egypt further, threatening more turbulence in a nation at the heart of the Arab Spring.
“The people support the president's decisions,” the crowd chanted.
Yet, a rival rally was staged in Cairo's Tahrir Square by secular opponents to denounce Morsi's decisions.
Morsi's opponents poured into Tahrir Square after the main weekly Muslim prayers, joined by leading secular politicians Mohamed ElBaradei, a former UN nuclear watchdog chief, and Amr Mussa, a former foreign minister and Arab League chief.
Some clashed with police on the outskirts of the square.
“The people want to bring down the regime,” shouted protesters in Tahrir, echoing a chant used in the uprising that forced Mubarak to step down.
“Get out, Morsi,” they chanted.
Away from rival street rallies, the Egyptian President’s decisions raised another political debate.
Morsi's decisions “are clearly aimed at appropriating revolutionary legitimacy and using it to strengthen the position of the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled presidency,” Hesham Sallam, a political analyst at Georgetown University, told AFP.
“The decrees effectively render the presidential decisions final and not subject to the review of judicial authorities, which marks a return to Mubarak-style presidency, without even the legal cosmetics that the previous regime used to employ to justify its authoritarian ways,” Sallam said.
“Morsi is a 'temporary' dictator,” read the banner headline in Friday's edition of independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.
A spokesman for the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), headed by Morsi before his election, said the president's decree was necessary to cut short the turbulent transitional period.
“We need stability” said Murad Ali.
“We need to move things in the right direction.
“That's not going to happen if we go back again to allowing the judges, who have personal reasons, to dissolve the constituent assembly in order to prolong the transitional phase,” he added.
Some 850 protesters were killed in clashes with security forces or Mubarak loyalists during last year's uprising.
The new prosecutor will open new investigations into the acquitted officials.
A senior FJP official said Morsi's decision was necessary to guarantee the revolution was on course.
“We could not find any legal avenue to pinpoint and prosecute those in the interior ministry who were responsible for killings,” Gehad Haddad told AFP.