Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi has told the country’s top judges that he did not infringe on their authority when he seized near absolute powers, setting the stage for a prolonged showdown on the eve of mass protests planned by both supporters and opponents of the Islamist leader.
The uncompromising stance came during a meeting between Morsi and members of the Supreme Judiciary Council to resolve a four-day crisis that has plunged the country into a new round of turmoil with clashes between the two sides that have left one protester dead and hundreds wounded.
The judiciary, the main target of M-rsi’s edicts, also has pushed back, calling the decrees a power grab and an “assault” on the branch’s independence. Judges and prosecutors stayed away from many courts in Cairo and other cities.
A spokesman said Morsi told the judges that he acted within his right as the nation’s sole source of legislation when he issued decrees putting himself above judicial oversight.
The president also extended the same immunity to two bodies dominated by his Islamist allies — a panel drafting a new constitution and parliament’s mostly toothless upper chamber.
The spokesman, Yasser Ali, also told reporters that Morsi assured the judges that the decrees did not in any way “infringe” on the judiciary.
Ali’s comments signalled Morsi’s resolve not to back down or compromise on the constitutional amendments he announced last week, raising the likelihood of more violence as both sides planned competing rallies in Cairo tomorrow.
Opposition activists have denounced Morsi’s decrees as a blatant power grab, and refused to enter a dialogue with the presidency before the edicts are rescinded.
The president has vigorously defended the new powers, saying they are a necessary temporary measure to implement badly needed reforms and protect Egypt’s transition to democracy after last year’s ouster of his predecessor Hosni Mubarak.