Prominent Egyptian democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei warned on Saturday of increasing turmoil that could potentially lead to the military stepping in unless the Islamist president rescinds his new, near-absolute powers, as the country’s long fragmented opposition sought to unite and rally new protests.
Egypt’s liberal and secular forces — long divided, weakened and uncertain amid the rise of Islamist parties to power — are seeking to rally themselves in response to the decrees issued this week by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. The president has granted himself sweeping powers to “protect the revolution” and made himself immune to judicial oversight.
The judiciary, which was the main target of Morsi’s edicts, pushed back on Saturday. The country’s highest body of judges, the Supreme Judical Council, called his decrees an “unprecedented assault.” Courts in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria announced a suspension of work until the decrees are lifted.
Outside the high court building in Cairo, several hundred demonstrators rallied against Morsi, chanting: “Leave, leave,” echoing the slogan used against former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in last year’s uprising that ousted him. Police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of young men who were shooting flares outside the court.
The edicts issued on Wednesday have galvanized anger brewing against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, from which he hails, ever since he took office in June as Egypt’s first freely-elected president. Critics accuse the Brotherhood — which has dominated elections over the past year — and other Islamists of monopolizing power and doing little to bring in real reform or address Egypt’s mounting economic and security woes. Opposition groups have called for new nationwide rallies tomorrow, and the Muslim Brotherhood has called for rallies supporting Morsi the same day, setting the stage for new violence.
Morsi’s supporters counter that the edicts were necessary to prevent the courts, which had already dissolved the elected lower house of parliament, from further holding up moves toward stability by disbanding the assembly and writing the new Constitution, as judges were considering doing. Like parliament was, the assembly is dominated by Islamists. Morsi accuses Mubarak loyalists in the judiciary of seeking to thwart the revolution’s goals and barred the judiciary from disbanding the constitutional assembly, parliament’s upper house.
In an interview with journalists, Nobel Peace Prize laureate ElBaradei raised alarm over the impact of Morsi’s rulings, saying he had become “a new pharaoh.”
“There is a good deal of anger, chaos, confusion. Violence is spreading to many places and state authority is starting to erode slowly,” he said.
“We hope that we can manage to have a smooth transition without plunging the country into a cycle of violence, but I don’t see this happening without Mr Morsi rescinding all of this,” he said.
Speaking of Egypt’s powerful military, ElBaradei said, “I am sure they are as worried as everyone else. You cannot exclude that the army will intervene to restore law and order,” if the situation gets out of hand.
However, anti-Morsi factions are chronically divided, with revolutionary youth activists, new liberal political parties that have struggled to build a public base and figures from the Mubarak era, all of whom distrust each other. The judiciary is also an uncomfortable cause for some to back, since it includes many Mubarak appointees who even Morsi opponents criticize as too tied to the old regime. Opponents say the edicts gave Morsi near dictatorial powers, neutering the judiciary when he already holds both executive and legislative powers.
One of his most controversial edicts gives him the right to take any steps to stop “threats to the revolution,” vague wording that activists say harkens back to Mubarak-era emergency laws.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in nationwide protests on Friday, sparking clashes between anti and pro-Morsi crowds in several cities that left more than 200 people wounded. On Saturday, new clashes broke out in the southern city of Assiut. Morsi opponents and members of the Muslim Brotherhood swung sticks and threw stones at each other outside the offices of the Brotherhood’s political party, leaving at least seven injured.