Egyptian judges strike at Morsi power grab

(Originally published by The Times)

By Evan Hill in Cairo

Egyptian judges vowed to confront an apparent power grab by the country’s new Islamist President today as violence flared in in central Cairo.

The Supreme Judicial Council, the judiciary’s top administrative and governing body, warned President Morsi against interfering in judicial independence, and at least one court in Alexandria announced it would suspend work in protest.

As judges held a press conference inside the council building, police fired tear gas outside to break up a demonstration in support of the judges that turned violent when elements in the crowd shot fireworks at the building and attempted to break inside.

Protesters had remained in Tahrir Square overnight after tens of thousands massed yesterday to oppose a sweeping package of presidential decrees issued by Mr Morsi on Thursday.

Mr Morsi’s edicts - attacked as an “unprecedented assault on the judciary” - would make his past and future decisions irrevocable by any authority and forbid the courts from dissolving the Islamist-dominated assembly currently drafting Egypt’s constitution.

Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, the former top prosecutor who was sacked and replaced under Mr Morsi’s decrees, said he rejected his dismissal and that his efforts to prosecute corruption cases had been stymied by Morsi’s government.

Talaat Ibrahim, the new attorney-general tasked by Mr Morsi with reopening murder cases against Mubarak and top security officials, denied media reports that Mr Mahmoud had been banned from travel.

Mr Morsi, a powerful figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, said he had issued the decrees to prevent efforts by Mubarak-era judges and politicians - “weevils eating away at the nation of Egypt” - to sabotage the revolution.

But secular, liberal and leftist forces united in their condemnation of the President and deemed him a “new pharaoh” just as autocratic as Mr Mubarak. They said the Brotherhood was intent on ramming through a constitution that would give Islamic law more prominence and restrict individual rights.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved the lower house of parliament, which was dominated by the Brotherhood and its allies, and it was set to rule on the dissolution of the constitutional assembly in December. The Brotherhood says Egypt’s judiciary is pervaded by Mubarak appointees opposed to the revolution.

An array of political parties opposed to Mr Morsi’s decision have called for a mass protest on Tuesday and hope they can encourage workers to strike if the government does not compromise. The Brotherhood has called for its own counter-protest, raising the spectre of violence.

Mohamed ElBaradei, an opposition leader, today condemned Mr Morsi’s decree. “There is no room for dialogue when a dictator imposes the most oppressive, abhorrent measures and then says ’let us split the difference’,” he said.

Action was needed to stop the “cycle of violence”, he said, adding: “How are we going to do that? I do not see any other way other than through Mr Morsi rescinding his dictatorial declaration.”

“I am waiting to see, I hope soon, a very strong statement of condemnation by the US, by Europe and by everybody who really cares about human dignity.”

Yesterday, protesters attacked the offices of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in Alexandria, Port Said, Suez and Ismailiya. At least 227 civilians and 128 police officers have been injured since Monday, when protests marking the anniversary of deadly election-related violence in 2011 began.