Morsi defends new powers as Cairo protests continue

A protester gestures during demonstrations in Cairo. Picture: Reuters
A protester gestures during demonstrations in Cairo. Picture: Reuters
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EGYPTIAN president Mohammed Morsi’s office last night defended decrees giving him sweeping new powers, saying the measures were designed to bolster the country’s transition to democratic rule and dismantle Mubarak’s old regime.

Prominent Egyptian democracy advocate Mohammed ElBaradei warned yesterday of increasing turmoil that could potentially lead to the military stepping in unless Morsi rescinds his new 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.

Yesterday, protesters clashed with police in Cairo’s Tahrir square, birthplace of the uprising that toppled Mubarak, and in the side streets and avenues leading off the plaza. The interior ministry, which is in charge of the police, said 267 protesters have been arrested and 164 policemen injured since the unrest began a week ago, initially to mark the anniversary of street protests a year ago. Forty-two protesters were killed in those demonstrations.

Several dozen protesters are staging a sit-in in Tahrir, vowing not to leave before Mr Morsi rescinds his decrees. The two sides have called for massive rival protests tomorrow at two Cairo locations less than a mile apart, raising the possibility of renewed clashes between supporters and opponents of Mr Morsi.

In the latest sign of the unrest sweeping the country, suspected militants blew up a military installation under construction in the central Sinai Peninsula area of al-Qaseema early today, wounding three workers, according to security officials.

Egypt’s benchmark stock index plunged by nearly 10 per cent yesterday in the first trading session since the country’s Islamist president issued the order.

Mr Morsi’s edicts, which were announced on Thursday, place him above oversight of any kind, including that of the courts. The move has thrown Egypt’s already troubled transition to democracy into further turmoil, sparking angry protests across the country to demand the decrees be immediately rescinded.

“The presidency reiterates the temporary nature of the said measures, which are not meant to concentrate powers,” the presidents’s office said last night. The statement also pledged Mr Morsi’s commitment to engaging all political forces in drafting a new constitution. Secular and Christian members withdrew from the panel drafting the document, claiming that the Islamists who dominate the body have hijacked the process to produce a charter with an Islamist slant.

The judiciary, which was the main target of the edicts, has hit back. Judges and prosecutors stayed away from several courts in Cairo and across much of the country.

The nation’s highest judicial body called on judges and prosecutors to return to work and announced that its members would meet with Mr Mosri to try to persuade him to restrict immunity to major state decisions like declaring war or martial law.

With the opening bell of the country’s stock market yesterday, the first day of the working week in Egypt, the turmoil spread from the country’s bitter politics to its already ailing economy.

The Egyptian Exchange’s EGX30 index dropped 9.59 percentage points, making the losses among the biggest since the turbulent days and weeks immediately after the removal of Mubarak. The loss in the value of shares was estimated at close to five billion dollars.