Taking advantage of its renewed popularity thanks to the diplomatic success in the Gaza crisis, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, signed on Thursday four decrees that set him above the law, subjecting the judiciary branch of government to his authority. The sudden decision represents quite a dramatic effect in the long conflict between the Muslim Brotherhood and a section of the judiciary, in the context of a democratic transition.
According to the new legal package, which has the status of a constitutional declaration in the absence of a constitution, none of the decisions, decrees or laws approved by the president since his inauguration may be revoked by another state institution, and that includes the capacities of the judiciary branch. Not even Hosni Mubarak get such a position of prominence, at least from a legal standpoint.
In addition, the rais ceases the rebel state prosecutor, Abdel Magid Mahmud, and appointed in his place Talat Abdullah. Mahmud was a problem to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. As one of the lat vestiges of the Mubarak era, the former Prosecutor General is responsible for the acquittal of important figures of the former regime. The president ceased Mahmud last month, and sent him as ambassador to the Vatican. However, the attorney general, a lifetime appointment under current regulations, clung to his post and succeeded in making Morsi give up in his attempt to unseat him. Apparently, only temporarily.
In a nod to the revolutionary forces, one of the decrees ordered by Morsi says that all those acquitted on the murders and abuses committed during the 18 days of the Egyptian revolution last year will have to be retried. With few exceptions, including Mubarak and his interior minister at the time, the trials of senior officials and officers of the security forces have resulted in acquittals for lack of evidence. Indeed, this was one of the main demands of the revolutionaries which Morsi promised to meet during the election campaign.
Morsi also shields the Constituent Assembly and the Senate, both threatened with dissolution by three applications being considered by the Constitutional Court. Furthermore, in two months Morsi gave the constituent committee two more months to write the new draft of the constitution, that was due to expire in early December. The Assembly is facing a serious crisis after the recent withdrawal of the secular parties arguing that the body is dominated by Islamists.
So, with his legal package, Morsi tries to bring water to his mill in several conflicts between the Muslim Brotherhood with some strata and sectors of Egyptian society. The rais repeats the move that allowed him to relieve the army leadership last August, and shows that he or his puppet masters understand the dynamics of power and the windows of political opportunity to reassert presidential authority. What a better time than a regional crisis to assert himself as a ‘leader’?
Undoubtedly, the main target of Morsi’s move is a judiciary sector led by the Constitutional Court. The row with the highest levels of the judiciary starts with the dissolution of the first Constituent Assembly and Parliament, both bodies dominated by Islamists.
Since its inception, the Egyptian transition has been a struggle between various political movements and power centers. The absence of any consensus, not even among the revolutionary forces, caused the politicization of the judiciary. And especially its upper echelons, plagued by judges loyal to Mubarak and hostile to Islamist ideology.
However, we have to see if Morsi achieves his goals with this bold move, or rather galvanizes and unites his detractors. Since his inauguration last June, the popular manifestations of rejection of his government have been rather limited in scope, but the frequency of those manifestations has increased. A questions that needs to be asked is whether the order to retry those allegedly responsible for crimes during the Mubarak regime will bring together the revolutionaries or if that move will install fears of a new theocracy.
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Contributed by Luis Miranda of The Real Agenda.
Luis R. Miranda is the Founder and Editor of The Real Agenda. His 16 years of experience in Journalism include television, radio, print and Internet news. Luis obtained his Journalism degree from Universidad Latina de Costa Rica, where he graduated in Mass Media Communication in 1998. He also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Broadcasting from Montclair State University in New Jersey. Among his most distinguished interviews are: Costa Rican President Jose Maria Figueres and James Hansen from NASA Space Goddard Institute.