Morsi vs. judges: Egyptian crisis gets ‘bizarrely legal’

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi meets with senior judges Monday in a bid to negotiate an end to the deadly crisis that erupted following his latest edicts granting himself sweeping powers.


Embattled Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi meets with senior judges Monday as the focus of the crisis over the president’s controversial new edicts appears to centre on the country’s judiciary.

Morsi is meeting with members of the country’s top judicial body, the Supreme Judicial Council, four days after he issued a set of presidential decrees granting him absolute powers that elevate his edicts beyond the reach of any court until a new constitution is approved.

The meeting comes a day after the Judges Club, another legal body that represents judges across Egypt, called for a nationwide strike to protest Morsi’s decrees.

Egypt's administrative court will next week examine a case demanding the cancellation of a decree issued by President Mohamed Morsi granting himself sweeping powers, an official said on Monday.

Abdel Meguid al-Moqannen, the deputy chief of the State Council, said more than 12 lawsuits had been filed and that the case would be examined on December 4, the MENA news agency reported.


The latest confrontation between Morsi’s Islamist supporters and secular opponents has plunged the world’s most populous Arab nation into its deepest crisis since former strongman Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power nearly two years ago.

Clashes between the two sides have spilled onto the streets of several Egyptian cities since the edicts were announced Thursday.

Reporting from Cairo on Monday, FRANCE 24’s Alexander Turnbull said, “There have been clashes pretty much every night here in Cairo, but also all over the country. In Cairo, the army has erected a wall on the main street just off Tahrir Square to try to calm things down to avoid more confrontations between groups of young protesters and the police.”

One Muslim Brotherhood member was killed late Sunday in an attack on the main office of the Brotherhood in the Nile Delta town of Damanhour, according to a statement posted on the website of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party.

More than 500 people have been injured in clashes since Thursday night as the decrees hardened disagreements in a deeply divided country, plunging the stock market Sunday in the first trading session since the edicts were issued.

Administration sending out ‘mixed signals’

Monday’s meeting between Morsi and members of the Supreme Judicial Council came amid hints of a possible compromise between the presidency and the judiciary.

On Sunday, Egyptian Justice Minister Ahmed Mekky said he had some reservations about Morsi’s decrees and offered to begin efforts to mediate between the president and the judges.

“The administration is actually sending out mixed signals,” explained Turnbull. “Ahmed Mekky is one of the president’s top advisors and he was followed by the chairman of the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament, who also said he had reservations and thought that the decrees should have been put to a referendum.”

Egypt has not had a lower house of parliament - or People’s Assembly - since the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court scrapped the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated body in June.

A ‘strangely, almost bizarrely, legal’ affair

The latest twists in the backlash against the new presidential decrees have turned increasingly legalistic as average Egyptians struggle to comprehend the issues confronting their country’s transition to democracy, according to several analysts.

In a post on the respected blog,The Arabist, Middle East expert Nathan Brown noted that, “Egyptian politics, for all its bare-knuckled power struggles, has also been strangely, almost bizarrely, legal,” before adding, “In a country where those with gavels are more powerful than those with guns, it is not a surprise that contestants speak in legal language. And that language is growing more abstruse.”

Many Egyptians - including Morsi's political opponents - believe the country’s judiciary needs reform, though they disagree with his methods. Many analysts and ordinary Egyptians criticise a judiciary packed with judges and prosecutors sympathetic to Mubarak.

One of the decrees issued Thursday was the sacking of public prosecutor Abdel Maguid Mahmoud, a Mubarak-era holdover, and the appointment of a replacement.
Morsi had unsuccessfully tried to remove the veteran prosecutor last month after the acquittals of Mubarak-era officials on trial for a deadly crackdown on protesters during the 2011 uprising.

But while the former prosecutor is a widely reviled figure, Morsi’s previous attempt to dislodge Mahmoud failed after it triggered an outcry from judges who said the Egyptian president had exceeded his powers. Critics attacked Morsi for what they claimed was an attack on the independence of the judiciary.

Compromise or slow expansion of Muslim Brotherhood’s powers?

Following the angry response to his edicts, Morsi has been at pains to note that the measures would be temporary and only valid until a new constitution was in place.

But one of Morsi’s most controversial edicts has been his ruling that no court could dissolve the country’s Constituent Assembly, which is drawing up a new Egyptian constitution.

The rewriting of the new constitution has been a controversial issue, with most non-Islamist members quitting the Constituent Assembly – including representatives of the Coptic Christian Church and the April 6 Youth Movement, which played an influential role in the 2011 uprising.

Reporting from Cairo, FRANCE 24’s Turnbull said some Egyptians were expecting a compromise to emerge from the talks between Morsi and the Supreme Judicial Council.

“Many here are saying that both Cabinet members and the Muslim Brotherhood are backpedaling,” explained Turnbull. “But several observers say that it’s actually part of their [the Muslim Brotherhood’s] strategy and they are being very patient in pushing through an expansion of their powers through negotiations.”

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