The Constitutional Declaration announced by President Mohamed Mursi on the evening of Thursday 22 November has practically split Egypt into two conflicting sides: Islamists and
non-Islamists. Islamists support Mursi’s move, while the non-Islamists see it as a blatant power grab and an unprecedented blow to democracy.
The declaration allowed President Mohamed Mursi to dismiss the prosecutor-general and appoint instead a new one handpicked by the President, Talaat Abdullah Ibrahim who was vice president of the Court of Cassation. It also made the president’s decisions untouchable by the judiciary, and immunised the Constituent Assembly and Shura Council—the legitimacy of both of which is contested before the court—from dissolution.
The declaration began by stating that the January 25 Revolution had mandated the president with the responsibility to achieve revolutionary demands and to root out remnants of the old regime from Egypt’s State institutions. It also called for a “new legitimacy built on a constitution” to promote “principles of freedom, justice and democracy.”
A translation of the Constitutional Declaration, published by the State-owned al-Ahram Online reads:
“We have decided the following:
Reopen the investigations and prosecutions in the cases of the murder, the attempted murder and the wounding of protesters as well as the crimes of terror committed against the revolutionaries by anyone who held a political or executive position under the former regime, according to the Law of the Protection of the Revolution and other laws.
Previous constitutional declarations, laws, and decrees made by the president since he took office on 30 June 2012, until the constitution is approved and a new People’s Assembly [lower house of parliament] is elected, are final and binding and cannot be appealed by any way or to any entity. Nor shall they be suspended or cancelled and all lawsuits related to them and brought before any judicial body against these decisions are annulled.
The prosecutor-general is to be appointed from among the members of the judiciary by the President of the Republic for a period of four years commencing from the date of office and is subject to the general conditions of being appointed as a judge and should not be under the age of 40. This provision applies to the one currently holding the position with immediate effect.
The text of the article on the formation of the Constituent Assembly in the 30 March 2011 Constitutional Declaration that reads, “it shall prepare a draft of a new constitution in a period of six months from the date it was formed” is to be amended to “it shall prepare the draft of a new constitution for the country no later than eight months from the date of its formation.”
No judicial body can dissolve the Shura Council [upper house of parliament] or the Constituent Assembly.
The President may take the necessary actions and measures to protect the country and the goals of the revolution.
This Constitutional Declaration is valid from the date of its publication in the official gazette.
Protest against Mursi’s Constitutional Declaration erupted all over Egypt. The Friday following the announcement of the declaration saw a several-thousands strong gathering of Islamists surround the presidential palace east of Cairo, shouting slogans supportive to Mursi. One slogan especially enraged pro-democracy Egyptians: “It is not enough to get rid of the prosecutor-general; now it is the turn of the media”.
For democracy seekers, no call against democracy could be more blatant.
In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, thousands of protestors gathered to express their anger at what they saw as an abortion of democracy and an overwhelming hand-over of the country to the Islamists, to whose ranks President Mursi belongs.
Many said that it was going back to Mubarak times, but many more in Tahrir said this was much worse; “at least, under Mubarak, the judiciary retained their independence,” one young man said. “What happened on Thursday is an unprecedented curtailment of freedoms. The President now holds absolute power. Even the military never had that when they were in power.”
The President, in an interview on State TV, said the far-reaching powers he had bestowed upon himself would only last till the constitution was approved in a public referendum. When asked, however, what would happen if the referendum disproves the constitution, he gave no clear answer and appeared to think such a possibility was non-existent. When told that the Churches in Egypt had opposed the Islamist draft constitution, he denied that had happened in the first place. He pledged he would protect all ‘reasonable’ opposition, and said that the protests by the civil forces proved he was for democracy. But he yet had to have someone believe him. The protestors insisted that neither Mursi nor the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) to which he belonged held any credibility.
The MB: Mursi’s move “disfigured”
In Cairo as well as in other towns across Egypt—some of these towns such as Alexandria or Mallawi have been famous as MB strongholds—the offices of the MB were attacked and set ablaze.
The MB retaliated by announcing that they would organise their own demonstrations throughout Egypt, and a wide-scale one in Cairo. They declared they would mobilise their forces nationwide.
A statement by the Supreme Guide of the MB said that Mursi’s move was one by an elected, legitimate president, and came in the direction of grounding legitimacy through working to bring about a constitution and an elected parliament. Yet his decision, the MB statement said, was deliberately disfigured, and the MB has been harmed physically and morally in the process.”
The seculars join forces
The four most prominent leaders of secular movements: former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, Hamdeen Sabahi of the People’s Stream, Mohamed Abul-Ghar of the Egyptian Democratic Party, and Mohamed ElBaradei of the Dustour Party—the first two had been presidential contenders—decided to band up and form a national salvation front. They denounced Mursi’s Constitutional Declaration and his power grab, and said they would hold no dialogue with him till he rescinds the Constitutional Declaration. They called upon all Egyptians to go down to Tahrir to defend the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.
Among the movements and political parties in Tahrir were the Dustour, al-Karama, Justice, al-Gabha, the Egyptian Democratic, and al-Wafd parties; as well as the General Centre for Civil Support, the Second Angry Revolution, the Free Front for Peaceful Change, the Revolutionary Forces Coalition, the 6 April, and the Nidal Mina Danyal movements and the Youth for Freedom and Justice.
“Coup against democracy”
The Union of the Revolution Youth called for large-scale demonstrations in Tahrir to bring down Mursi’s Constitutional Declaration, and went as far as to accuse the President of grand treason.
On his Twitter account, Mohamed ElBaradei, tweeted that Mursi had destroyed the concepts of State and legitimacy; he had appointed himself Hakim bi-Amr Allah (literally Ruler by Allah’s Command).
Hamed al-Gamal, the former President of the highest administrative court in Egypt, the State Council, told Watani that Mursi’s decisions were practically a coup against constitutional legitimacy and democracy. “It is a seizure of the people’s authority.” Mursi, Gamal said, had exploited legitimacy to become president, then turned against legitimacy.
The Constitutional Declaration, Gamal said, contradicts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Montréal Universal Declaration on the Independence of Justice; all of which Egypt has signed.
For his part, the former MP and founding member of Dustour Party Mustafa al-Guindy said the Egyptian people had erred when they insisted on bringing down Mubarak but never gave a thought to what would come next. Guindy believes it is the responsibility of parties and political movements to vindicate the revolutionaries.
Twenty human rights groups signed a joint statement in which they unequivocally rejected, in strong language, the Constitutional Declaration announced by Mursi, and demanded that it should be dropped. “The President,” the statement said, “has thrown to the wind the demand for democracy by the Egyptian Revolution; granted himself unprecedented, sweeping powers; and has immunised his decisions against any possibility of being contested before courts of law. He granted his decisions a seemingly godly character that makes them indisputable and incontestable.”
“The president’s decisions are unprecedented in the modern history of Egypt,” the statement said, “and have granted Mursi powers no president or king of Egypt ever possessed. The Constitutional Declaration used a poisonous rhetorical mix that exalts the revolution, democracy and social justice, even as it founds for a totalitarian, despotic rule. It allows the President, in addition to the legislative and executive authorities he already possesses, to trifle with the judiciary.”
The judiciary has its say
It had to wait for the judiciary, however, for the full force of the wrath to hit.
The Constitutional Court issued a statement in which it refrained from commenting on Thursday’s Constitutional Declaration since it was related to the nature of the tasks the Court was entitled to handle. “The Constitutional Court wishes to assure the Egyptian people that it has never been a ready tool to be used by whoever wishes to achieve whichever purpose at whatever time. It will go on working in silence to have its say when it is required to.”
The Lawyers’ Syndicate issued a statement calling all lawyers to prepare for a general strike to protest what it described as the “Constitutional Declaration the President has issued, but which he is in no way entitled to issue. The President exceeded his mandate, which makes the Declaration he issued null and void.” The content of the Declaration, the statement said, exposes the President’s intentions to be a despot who controls all the junctures of the State, and restricts the people’s right to justice.
In a general assembly of the Judges Club—the equivalent of a syndicate—The head of the Club Judge Ahmed al-Zind, announced that 30 political parties had frozen their activities until the Constitutional Declaration is revoked.
The Club demanded that the President should rescind the recent Constitutional Declaration, which means that the sacked prosecutor-general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud should be reinstated. It called on the new prosecutor-general to decline his appointment, insisting that “we positively feel you would not accept to be the sword the ruler uses to force Egypt centuries backward.” It also announced a general strike.
Sunday saw the Cairo stock market plunge some 10 per cent, losing EGP29.3 billion of total market capitalisation. Further fall was halted only by automatic curbs. It was the worst fall since the January 2011 Revolution.
A meeting between President Mursi and senior judges on Monday, during which the President attempted to discuss a way out of the impasse, reached nowhere. The judges insisted the Constitutional Declaration should be rescinded, but Mursi was adamant it would not.
A similar request by the FJP to meet with secular political forces up in arms about the decree was flatly refused until Morsi retreated.
Liberals rally in Tahrir
Since Friday 23 November, Egypt’s liberals have been holding a resounding rally in Tahrir Square to protest against President Mursi’s recent Constitutional Declaration.
Thousands have converged on the central Cairo Square, many marching from various spots in Cairo.
Journalists, judges and lawyers were among the groups which marched on Tahrir. Former presidential contenders Hamdeen Sabahy, Khaled Ali, and Amr Moussa were at the head of marches which set off respectively from Mustafa Mahmoud Square, in Giza, and Shubra in North Cairo, and Abdel-Moniem Riyad Square in central Cairo. Mohamed ElBaradei, also led a march that left from Shubra.
Egyptians from all walks of life joined in the demonstrations. A number of the revolutionary forces in Tahrir said they would hold a prolonged sit-in, until President Mursi rescinds the Constitutional Declaration, or leaves.
Reported by Maged Samir, Robeir al-Faris, Hanan Fikry, Lillian Nabil, Mariam Adly and Mary Girgis
2 December 2012
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