Morsi grants himself far-reaching powers

In this photo released by the Egyptian Presidency, President Mohammed Morsi, right, swears in his new Prosecutor General, Talaat Abdullah, left, in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012. Egypt's president on Thursday issued constitutional amendments granting himself far-reaching powers and ordering the retrial of leaders of Hosni Mubarak's regime for the killing of protesters in last year's uprising. Morsi also on Thursday fired the country's top prosecutor by decreeing with immediate effect that he could only stay in office for four years and replacing him with Talaat Abdullah. Morsi fired Abdel-Maguid Mahmoud for the first time in October, but had to rescind his decision when he found that the powers of his office do not empower him to do so. (AP Photo/Egyptian Presidency
In this photo released by the Egyptian Presidency, President Mohammed Morsi, right, swears in his new Prosecutor General, Talaat Abdullah, left, in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012. Egypt's president on Thursday issued constitutional amendments granting himself far-reaching powers and ordering the retrial of leaders of Hosni Mubarak's regime for the killing of protesters in last year's uprising. Morsi also on Thursday fired the country's top prosecutor by decreeing with immediate effect that he could only stay in office for four years and replacing him with Talaat Abdullah. Morsi fired Abdel-Maguid Mahmoud for the first time in October, but had to rescind his decision when he found that the powers of his office do not empower him to do so. (AP Photo/Egyptian Presidency

Egypt’s president on Thursday issued constitutional amendments that placed him above judicial oversight and ordered the retrial of Hosni Mubarak for the killing of protesters in last year’s uprising.

Mohammed Morsi also decreed immunity for the Islamist-dominated panel drafting a new constitution from any possible court decisions to dissolve it, a threat that had been hanging over the controversial assembly.

Liberal and Christian members withdrew from the assembly during the past week to protest what they say is the hijacking of the process by Morsi’s allies, who they saw are trying to push through a document that will have an Islamist slant marginalizing women and minority Christians and infringing on personal liberties. Several courts have been looking into cases demanding the dissolution of the panel.

The Egyptian leader also decreed that all decisions he has made since taking office in June and until a new constitution is adopted and a new parliament is elected — which is not expected before next spring — are not subject to appeal in court or by any other authority. He also barred any court from dissolving the Islamist-led upper house of parliament, a largely toothless body that has also faced court cases.

The moves effectively remove any oversight on Morsi, the longtime Muslim Brotherhood figure who became Egypt’s first freely elected president last summer after the Feb. 11, 2011, fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

They come as Morsi is riding high on lavish praise from President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for mediating an end to eight days of fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

Morsi not only holds executive power, he also has legislative authority after a previous court ruling just before he took office on June 30 dissolved the powerful lower house of parliament, which was led by the Brotherhood. With two branches of power in his hands, Morsi has had repeated frictions with the third, the judiciary, over recent months.

“Morsi today usurped all state powers & appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh,” pro-reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on his Twitter account. “A major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences.”

The president made most of the changes Thursday by issuing a declaration amending what has become a patchwork interim constitution in effect since Mubarak’s fall. The military, which took power after Mubarak, set the precedent for the executive unilaterally issuing constitutional changes, which it did several times during its 16-month rule.

Morsi on Thursday extended by two months the deadline for the assembly to produce a draft for a new constitution, apparently to give members more time to iron out their differences.

The moves are likely to fuel growing public criticism that Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood have monopolized power while doing little to tackle the country’s endemic woes. Thousands of demonstrators gathered in downtown Cairo for the straight fourth day to protest against Morsi’s policies and criticize the Muslim Brotherhood, the fundamentalist group from which the Egyptian leader hails.

The decree for a retrial of Mubarak appeared aimed at making a gesture to the public. 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 and sentenced 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.