Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is set to meet senior judges today (Monday) to try to ease a crisis over his new powers which has set off protests reminiscent of the revolution last year that brought him to power.
Activists on Sunday were camped in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for a third day, blocking traffic with makeshift barricades to protest against what they said was a power-grab by Morsi. Nearby, riot police and protesters clashed intermittently.
One Muslim Brotherhood member was killed and 60 people were injured late on Sunday in an attack on the main office of the movement in the Nile Delta town of Damanhour, the website of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party said.
More than 500 people have been injured in clashes between police and protesters worried Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood is trying to consolidate power.
The country’s highest judicial authority hinted at compromise to avert a further escalation, though Morsi’s opponents want nothing less than the complete cancellation of a decree they see as a danger to democracy.
The Supreme Judicial Council said Morsi’s decree should apply only to "sovereign matters", suggesting it did not reject the declaration outright, and called on judges and prosecutors, some of whom began a strike on Sunday, to return to work.
Morsi will meet the council on Monday, state media said.
Morsi’s office repeated assurances that the measures would be temporary, and said he wanted dialogue with political groups to find "common ground" over what should go in Egypt’s constitution, one of the issues at the heart of the crisis.
Hassan Nafaa, a professor of political science at Cairo University, saw an effort by the presidency and judiciary to resolve the crisis, but added their statements were "vague".
"The situation is heading towards more trouble," he said.
Sunday’s stock market fall of nearly 10 per cent - halted only by automatic curbs - was the worst since the uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak in February, 2011.
Morsi’s supporters and opponents planned big demonstrations for Tuesday that could be a trigger for more street violence.
"We are back to square one, politically, socially," said Mohamed Radwan of Pharos Securities, an Egyptian brokerage firm.
Morsi’s decree marks an effort to consolidate his influence after he successfully sidelined Mubarak-era generals in August, and reflects his suspicions of a judiciary little reformed since the fall of his predecessor.
Issued just a day after Morsi received glowing tributes from Washington for his work brokering a deal to end eight days of Israeli attacks on Gaza, the decree drew warnings from the West to uphold democracy.
’Protect the revolution’
The Morsi administration has defended his decree as an effort to speed up reforms that will complete Egypt’s democratic transformation.
Yet leftists, liberals, socialists and others say it has exposed the autocratic impulses of a man once jailed by Mubarak.
"There is no room for dialogue when a dictator imposes the most oppressive, abhorrent measures and then says ’let us split the difference’," prominent opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei said on Saturday.
Morsi framed his decisions on Thursday as necessary to protect the revolution that toppled Mubarak nearly two years ago and to cement the nation’s transition to democratic rule.
Morsi also ordered the retrial of Mubarak and top aides on charges of killing protesters during the uprising.
"He had to act to save the country and protect the course of the revolution,’’ Pakinam al-Sharqawi, one of Morsi’s aides, said.
"It is a major stage in the process of completing the January 25th revolution,’’ she said, alluding to the starting day of last year’s uprising against Mubarak.
He also created a new "protection of the revolution’’ judicial body to swiftly carry out the prosecutions.