Morsi's decrees widen Egypt’s ideological rifts
Published Sunday, November 25, 2012 7:21AM EST
Last Updated Sunday, November 25, 2012 7:01PM EST
Clashes turned deadly Sunday as protests over Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s controversial decrees granting him centralized power continued on the streets of Cairo and in other parts of the country.
According to officials, a 15-year-old boy was killed and others wounded as protesters attempted to storm Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood offices in the city of Damanhoor, the Associated Press reported. Speaking on condition of anonymity, officials identified the boy as Islam Hamdi Abdel-Maqsood. It is the first reported death since the wave of protests in Egypt began anew last week.
The escalating political unrest has also hit the economy, with Egypt’s EGX30 stock index plunging by nearly 10 per cent in Sunday trading.
Days after Morsi cemented his power in a series of decrees, his far-reaching edicts continue to divide public opinion. Protests in Cairo spilled into yet another day as Morsi supporters and detractors attempted to mobilize in competing rallies.
Demonstrators continue to rally in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, considered the birthplace of 2011’s Arab Spring protests. Some activists have shouted “Leave! Leave!” outside the capital’s high court building, a chant used in the lead-up to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.
The Interior Ministry said 267 protesters have been arrested and more than 150 policemen injured since the fresh battles began last week.
A number of protesters, the majority of whom are young men, have pitched tents in Tahrir Square vowing to keep up the fight, CNN’s Reza Sayah reported from Cairo Sunday.
“It’s not clear how long they’re going to stay here, but when you talk to them, they sound determined to stay,” Sayah told CTV News Channel by telephone.
In a statement released Sunday, Morsi stood firm, saying the decrees will help with Egypt’s move to democratic rule. He also reaffirmed his promise to make the process of drafting a new constitution inclusionary to all political groups.
“The presidency reiterates the temporary nature of the said measures, which are not meant to concentrate powers,” it said.
The dispute is expected to escalate on Tuesday with grand marches planned by both opposition groups and Morsi’s Islamist supporters, he added.
The Muslim Brotherhood is trying to co-ordinate a “million man” protest in a show of support for Morsi’s new edicts. The intent, said Sayah, is to compete with a similar march being organized by President Morsi’s detractors.
Protests have been ongoing since Morsi issued the controversial edicts last Wednesday. The new decrees increase his power, placing him above any sort of judicial oversight. His statutes also shield the Islamist-dominated upper chamber of parliament and a panel drafting a new constitution from outside influence.
Morsi argued that his broad edict was put in place to protect the nation from Mubarak loyalists. Critics have shot back at the explanation, saying that the president’s decree has complicated an already fragile transition to democracy.
Middle East analyst Mark Sedra, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), said Morsi’s decision is a strategic move for the Islamist government.
“This is a way of ensuring that the Muslim Brotherhood gets the constitution it wants,” he told CTV News in an interview from Waterloo, Ont.
Opposition to Morsi’s decision has extended beyond Cairo, with courts in the city of Alexandria announcing a work suspension until the decrees are lifted. Newspapers have printed large-print headlines pitting “the people against the Pharaoh,” while Egypt’s stock market (EGX30) has plummeted Sunday to one of its lowest levels since the ouster of Mubarak.
In Cairo, police and protesters traded tear gas and stones this week as demonstrators called on Morsi to overturn the rules.
Mohammed ElBaradei, a well-known Egyptian democracy advocate, has warned that the military may need to intervene if the conflict escalates.
Protests against Morsi’s sweeping decrees began at a complicated time for both Egypt and its president. Morsi had just finished helping Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip reach a ceasefire after days of intense fighting. The United States, which had praised Egypt for helping to broker the Israel-Hamas agreement, has since expressed concern about Morsi’s declaration.
Analyst Eric Trager, a next-generation fellow at the Washington Institute, predicts that the latest standoff between Morsi supporters and detractors could be a drawn-out confrontation.
“The fact is that unlike Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood can mobilize its masses. It has cells across the country in every single neighbourhood,” he told CTV News Channel, adding that the Brotherhood should be able to organize support just as the opposition has.
Trager referred to the latest dispute as a “step back” for Egypt.
“Many people hoped that the fall of Mubarak would be the last dictatorship in Egypt. What you right now have is a president who, on paper, is much more powerful than Mubarak ever was.”
With files from The Associated Press and CTV’s Beijing Bureau Chief Janis Mackey Frayer