On Tuesday, November 27, tens of thousands of Egyptians filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square and the streets of Alexandria, Suez, Luxor and cities all over the country to protest a decree granting President Mohamed Morsi sweeping constitutional powers.
In Cairo, those who massed around a small tent city in Tahrir shouted “Leave, leave!”, “Bring down the regime!” and “The people want to bring down the regime!”, chants echoing those of almost two years ago, when eighteen days of demonstrations led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.
As one protester, Ahmed Husseini, said to Reuters, “We don’t want a dictatorship again. The Mubarak regime was a dictatorship. We had a revolution to have justice and freedom.”
Morsi Decrees Far-Reaching Powers For Himself
Morsi was elected president this past June. Previous parliamentary elections in January had resulted in a majority of delegates going to Islamists including members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and also to ultra-conservative Salafists.
Liberals and other parties have been so far unable to coalesce into a unified opposition. Women had won only a very few seats in the parliamentary elections. The Islamists’ prevailing in those elections, and Morsi’s victory, have led many to question what the future for women’s rights in Egypt will be.
Last Thursday, November 22, in an announcement that was a surprise to his own cabinet of ministers, Morsi announced a “constitutional declaration” under which no party can rescind his decrees and under which judges cannot dissolve the assembly that is charged with creating a new constitution. Morsi was also granted the power to take whatever measures he deems necessary to preserve the revolution and national unity and to safeguard national security.
Afterwards, violence broke out throughout Egypt and, in some places, Muslim Brotherhood offices were vandalized.
On Monday, November 26, Morsi sought to defuse the growing crisis by saying that the decree granting him new powers was limited in scope and restricted only to “sovereign matters.” But in truth, he actually made no concessions and did not change anything of substance in the decree. Egypt’s union of judges, the Judges Club, has been still suspended working in the courts, saying that Morsi’s statement is “worthless.”
Is the Revolution Being Betrayed?
During this week’s protests, Egyptians accused Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood of undermining, and even betraying, the revolution, says the BBC.
Initially the Muslim Brotherhood had said it would hold its own rally on Tuesday but cancelled it. In a sign of how Morsi and the Brotherhood are positioned — are potentially positioning themselves — against everyone else, messages claiming that the turnout at Tuesday’s rallies was low appeared on the Brotherhood’s Twitter feed, says the Guardian.
Morsi contends that his granting himself such far-reaching constitutional powers is temporary. But it remains to be seen what his “power grab” (as the New York Times put it) entails and who truly is the defender of democracy in Egypt. As Magdi Adelhadi writes in the Guardian with a nod to the country’s very recent history, “exceptional temporary measures in Egypt have a history of becoming permanent.”
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Photo of Tahrir Square on November 27, 2012, by sierragoddess