Mohammad Mursi, the Egyptian president, has come under heavy criticism after granting himself sweeping new powers including putting himself above the law.
The European Union has called on President Mursi to respect the democratic process in his country and commit to democratic parliamentary elections as soon as possible.
Angry protestors stormed the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria today, throwing books and chairs out into the street and setting them on fire. State tv has also reported that other Muslim Brotherhood offices in Suez, Port Said and Ismailia have also been attacked.
Following international praise for brokering a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, on Thursday evening President Mursi decreed much greater powers for himself ensuring that his decisions since coming into power, and until a new consitution and new parliament are adopted, could not be challenged by any authority including the courts.
Middle East expert Professor Fawaz Gerges has told Channel 4 News that the rule of one man has been a catastrophe for Egyptian politics in the past and Mursi is taking a dangerous route despite his intentions.
“He is behaving like his predecessors and laying the foundations to an imperial presidency,” Professor Gerges explained.
“Regardless of his intentions what he has done is make himself a supreme leader. What he did is undermining the basic foundations of democracy and separation of powers in Egypt. I believe he is a good man of course, but you can’t concentrate power even if your intentions are good.
“Egypt’s democracy is very fragile, he needs to nurture it. History is repeating itself, his behaviour is not different from his predecessors, people are anxious and outraged about this. Mursi was elected to resolve the situation but has put himself above the law. The situation is very alarming and will exacerbate tensions.”
Speaking in Geneva on Friday Rupert Colville, the spokesman for the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner said “we are very concerned about the possible huge ramifications of this declaration on human rights and the rule of law in Egypt.” Mr Colville added “we also fear this could lead to a very volatile situation over the next few days, starting today in fact.”
President Mursi’s move provoked condemnation from opposition politicians who called for public protests against the sweeping changes.
A spokesman for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton has said “It is of utmost importance that (the) democratic process be completed in accordance with the commitments undertaken by the Egyptian leadership”.
“These commitments included “the separation of powers, the independence of justice, the protection of fundamental freedoms and the holding of democratic parliamentary elections.”
However, Mursi’s aides said the move, which gave the president powers to sack the Mubarak-era prosecutor general and appoint a new one, would speed up the country’s transition that has been hindered by legal obstacles.
Mursi’s decree shields an Islamist-dominated assembly writing Egypt’s new constitution, as well as the upper house of parliament dominated by Islamists allied to Mursi, from potential legal challenges.
Pro-reform leader Mohamed El Baradei and Nobel peace recipient, wrote on Twitter that Mursi had effectively appointed himself “Egypt’s new pharaoh”. El Baradei, was amongst politicians who called for protests on Friday against the decree.
Morsi today usurped all state powers & appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh. A major blow to the revolution that cld have dire consequences
— Mohamed ElBaradei (@ElBaradei) November 22, 2012
Wael Ghonim, one of Egypt’s most high-profile activists from Egypt’s revolution, said: “The revolution was not staged in search for a benign dictator, there is a difference between revolutionary decisions and dictatorial decisions. God is the only one whose decisions are not questioned.”
Mursi has justified the decree by saying it is necessary in order to preserve the revolution, and his supporters also took to the streets last night in praise of his decision.
“He had to act to save the country and protect the course of the revolution,” said one of Mursi’s aides, Pakinam al-Sharqawi, speaking on Al-Jazeera. “It is a major stage in the process of completing the January 25th revolution.”
Concerns have been raised that the new constitution may marginalise women and minority Christians.
President Mursi also barred any court from dissolving the Islamist-led upper house of parliament, a largely toothless body that has also faced court cases.
In a move that appeared to appeal to public opinion, the president also ordered the retrial of Hosni Mubarak and other senior member of Eqypt’s deposed regime. The decree called for “new investigations and trials” against those who held “political or executive” positions in the old regime and who are accused of killing protesters.
Mubarak was convicted in June to life in prison for failing to stop the killing of protesters during last year’s uprising against his rule, but many Egyptians were angered that he wasn’t convicted of actually ordering the crackdown and that his security chief, Habib el-Adly, was not sentenced to death. Several top police commanders were acquitted, and Mubarak and his sons were found not guilty of corruption charges.
President Mursi also fired Egypt’s top prosecutor, Abdel-Maguid Mahmoud. A Mubarak-era appointee, Mr Mahmoud has faced widespread accusations that his office did a shoddy job collecting evidence against Mubarak, el-Adly and the police in trials.
President Mursi fired Mahmoud in October but had to rescind his decision when he found that the powers of his office do not empower him to do so. On Thursday his decree stated that the prosecutor general could serve office for only four years, with immediate effect on Mahmoud. Mahmoud, who has been in the position since 2006, was forced to leave. President Mursi replaced Mahmoud with Talaat Abdullah, a career judge, and swiftly swore him in.