A nation searing with rage
The constitutional declaration announced by President Mohamed Mursi last Thursday has split the nation into Islamists and non-Islamists; the Islamist currents supporting Mursi’s move,
and the non-Islamists seeing it as an anti-democratic move that bestowed upon him absolute power.
The Declaration allowed the President to fire the prosecutor-general and appoint instead one handpicked by the President: Talaat Abdullah Ibrahim who was vice president of the Court of Cassation. It also made the presidential decisions untouchable by the judiciary, and immunisedthe 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.
Yesterday saw Egyptian towns seething with demonstrations. A several-thousands strong gathering of Islamists surrounded the presidential palace east of Cairo, shouting slogans supportive to Mursi. One slogan especially enraged liberal, pro-democracy Egyptians: “Off with 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 theysaw 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 said this was much worse; “at least, under Mubarak, the judiciary retained their independence. What happened on Thursday is an unprecedented curtailment of freedoms. All the powers are now absolutely in the hands of the president. Even the military never did that when they were in power.”
Late in the afternoon, the President gave a speech in which he pledged he would protect all ‘reasonable’ opposition. But he yet had to have anyone 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 evening saw a power cut in Tahrir, but the protestors did not budge; they announced they would hold a sit-in till the President revoked his decisions.
The MB: Mursi’s move “disfigured”
In Cairo as well as in other towns across Egypt, the offices of the MB were attacked and set ablaze.
The MB retaliated by announcing on Saturday that they would organise their own demonstrations in various squares throughout Egypt, and a wide-scale one in Abdeen Square
in Downtown Cairo next Tuesday.
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 establish 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.”
Seculars join forces
The three most prominent leaders of secular movements: former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, Mohamed Abul-Ghar of the Egyptian Democratic Party, Hamdeen Sabahi of the People’s Stream, and Mohamed ElBaradei of the Dustour Party—the first two had been candidates in the presidential elections which brought in Mursi as president—decided to band up and form a national salvation front. They denounced Mursi’s constitutional declaration and his power hegemony, and said they would hold no dialogue with him till the Declaration was fully revoked. 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, the and the Youth for Freedom and Justice.
“Coup against democracy”
The Union of the Revolution Youth called for a large-scale demonstration next Tuesday to bring down Mursi’s constitutional declaration, and went as far as to accuse President Mursi of grand treason.
On his Twitter account, Mohamed al-Baradei, founder of al-Dustour Party and former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), tweeted that Mursi had destroyed the concepts of State and legitimacy; he appointed himself Hakim bi-Amr Allah (literally Ruler by Allah##s Command). He has indefinitely stalled the 2011 Revolution.”
Hamed al-Gamal, the former President of the highest administrative court in Egypt, the State Council, told Watani that Mursi’s decisions were a practical coup against constitutional legitimacy and democracy. “It is a seizure of the people’s authority.” Mursi, Gamal said, had
exploited legitimacy to seize power, then turned against legitimacy.
Thursday’s 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’s regime and never thought of what would come next. Guindy believes it is the responsibility of parties and political movements to vindicate the revolutionaries.
The Free Front for Peaceful Change issued a declaration in which it stated that Mursi’s Constitutional Declaration was a “soft coup” which it described as intended to launch a despotic ruler, and establish a new fascist rule, a police State endorsed by the Muslim Brothers.
Twenty human rights groups signed a joint statement in which they unequivocally rejected, in strong language, the Constitutional Declaration announced by Mursi last Thursday, 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 opportunity of being contested before courts of law. He has 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 of king of Egypt ever possessed. The Constitutional Declaration has used a poisonous mix of rhetoric that exalts the revolution, democracy and social justice, even as it founds 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 be felt.
The Constitutional Court issued a statement in which it refrained form 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 was 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 annul 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.
Reported by Maged Samir, Robeir al-Faris, Hanan Fikry, Lillian Nabil, Mariam Adly and Mary Girgis
24 November 2012