Last week Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi issued a broad decree that gives him the power to do as he pleases until the Egyptian parliament ratifies a new constitution and another parliamentary election is held. His power cannot be revoked by any authority, and his decisions cannot be stalled or overruled by any judicial authority in place.
Facing possible dissolution, Morsi granted himself the powers in order to provide a smooth transition to a constitutional democracy and has said that the power is temporary. Tens of thousands of protesters have filled Tahrir square in Cairo in opposition to the move by the president, saying that they want the regime to fall. The last time these phrases were used in mass protests was before the fall of Hosni Mubarak last year and they are surfacing again due to fear that Morsi is positioning himself to become the new “strongman” in Egypt.
Following the announcement by Morsi that he had assumed his new power, upper level judges in the supreme constitutional court have been locked in a standoff with the president, in order to force him to drop his power. In addition to legal action by the judges, some 43 lawsuits have been filed against Morsi, saying he has no legal, constitutional right to the power he now holds.
Meanwhile, the constituent assembly responsible for the new constitution has been working around-the-clock to draft the constitution and had finished voting on the document early Friday. The next step is to forward the constitution to Morsi, at which point he will call for a referendum to ratify the constitution. After the constituent assembly completed its task, Morsi called for a new parliamentary election.
Contained within the new constitution is a limitation on the amount of time any president can serve. If the document is ratified and accepted, then the president will be limited to two four-year terms, after which he is ineligible for reelection. The difficulty with the new power that Morsi now holds is that he can veto the constitution until it fits his agenda and no judicial body or assembly can challenge his decision.
Another considerable concern for Egyptians is that with Morsi pushing so hard for the new constitution to move through, there has not been a proper vetting period to prove the new constitution is a good idea. With the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly doing the drafting, there is little input from others in the formation of the new constitution.
Human right organizations familiar with the situation in Cairo have said that the new constitution is filled with holes and has several ambiguous sections. The new document would theoretically accomplish much of what last year’s revolution set out to do, namely limit the power of the presidency, create a powerful parliament that will do the governing, and give more freedom to the people. The difficulties with the new constitution is that it gives the military much of the power that it had under Mubarak and there is fear that more power to the military would result in another Mubarak-style regime.
Morsi has been adamant that this is a very temporary measure to ensure the success of the democracy, but the general feeling of the populace is that his actions are far too close to the regime they fought hard to depose.