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Egyptians accuse President Morsi of rewriting rules of democracy

President Morsi's decree this week drew accusations that he was returning Egypt to the days of the Mubarak regime, but he defended his decision as an effort to protect the revolution. 

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He also declared Egypt's upper house of parliament immune from dissolution and fired the prosecutor general. And in what activists called perhaps the most worrying point for its vague and broad wording, the president said he could take any measure he sees fit in order to protect "the revolution, the life of the nation, national unity, or security." He says he will relinquish all these powers when a new constitution is in place.

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In what appears an attempt to win popular approval for the move, he also ordered retrials for former President Hosni Mubarak, his Interior Minister Habib el Adly, and some of Mr. Adly's deputies on charges of ordering the killing of protesters during the uprising that swept Mr. Mubarak from power in 2011. He also increased the compensation paid to those who were wounded in the uprising.  

Morsi was elected by a slim margin earlier this year. Just before the election, the Supreme Constitutional Court, filled with Mubarak appointees, disbanded Egypt's first post-uprising elected parliament, which was dominated by the FJP.

Morsi assumed the parliament's legislative power until a new body is elected, taking it from the military junta which sought, in an eleventh-hour power grab, to keep the legislative power for itself. Earlier this year, a court disbanded the first constituent assembly, after secular members withdrew in protest at Islamist domination of the body. The second constituent assembly, elected by the now-disbanded parliament, is now at risk of being disbanded again, in a court case that was due to be decided soon. Nearly all secular, liberal, and Christian members had resigned from the body, complaining that Islamist members didn't listen to their suggestions. 

'Exceptional circumstances'

The repeated attempts by Mubarak loyalists in the judiciary to stymy Morsi's attempts to steer Egypt through a difficult transition into stability and fully-fledged democracy made it necessary for him to claim these temporary powers, says Gehad El Haddad, an advisor to the FJP. The president acted to protect the only representative bodies in Egypt – the constituent assembly and upper house of parliament – from corrupt Mubarak appointees who sought to bring them down.

"He created exceptional declarations that are suitable for exceptional times under exceptional circumstances," says Dr. Haddad. "For the last three months everyone has been pushing the president to do real genuine change in the state … Every time the president tried to enact his legislative power, the judicial system stood against him," primarily the prosecutor general and the constitutional court, says Haddad. 

Egypt's prosecutor general, a Mubarak appointee who worked for years as a part of the former regime, brought flimsy cases against the former president, his sons, and former Interior Ministry officials. Mubarak and Adly were convicted and sentenced to life in prison, but their verdict has been appealed; Mubarak's two sons were acquitted of corruption charges, though they are still in prison on further charges.  

Haddad acknowledges that the vague wording of the decree giving Morsi power to "protect the revolution" could cause the opposition to worry. But he pointed out that the president's powers are temporary, and that his move actually paves the way for a constitution that will define and limit his powers, and the subsequent election of a new parliament that will assume legislative power.

"It was an exceptional measure to take, but he tried other measures, and was stonewalled," says Haddad. 

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