ABOVE PHOTO: Protesters opposed to Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi chant slogans near burning garbage at Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012. Supporters and opponents of Egyptian leader Mohammed Morsi fought with rocks, firebombs and sticks outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Wednesday, as a new round of protests deepened the country’s political crisis.
(AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
By Maggie Michael
CAIRO — Egypt’s political crisis is widening, with plans for a huge march and a general strike Tuesday to protest the hurried drafting of a new constitution and decrees by President Mohammed Morsi that gave him nearly unrestricted powers.
Morsi also faces the prospect of wider civil disobedience as media, the tourism industry and law professors pondered moves that would build on a strike by the nation’s judges.
The planned strikes and march raise new fears of unrest, threatening to derail the country’s transition to democratic rule.
“Egypt is a big ship in high seas, and no one should stop its captain from taking it to the shore,” said Morsi’s legal adviser, Mohammed Gaballah, defending his boss.
“The ship must keep moving under any conditions,” he told The Associated Press on Monday.
The country’s judges have already gone on strike over Morsi’s Nov. 22 decrees that placed him above oversight of any kind, including the courts. Following those decrees, a panel dominated by the president’s Islamist supporters rushed through a draft constitution without the participation of representatives of liberals and Christians. Only four women, all Islamists, attended the marathon, all-night session.
Morsi has called for a Dec. 15 national referendum to approve the constitution.
An opposition coalition dominated by the liberal and leftist groups that led last year’s uprising had already called for a general strike Tuesday and a large demonstration against the constitutional process and Morsi’s decrees.
Newspapers plan to suspend publication, and privately owned TV networks will blacken their screens all day.
Monday’s front pages of Egypt’s most prominent newspapers said, “No to dictatorship” on a black background, with a picture of a man wrapped in newspaper and with his feet shackled while he squatted in a prison cell.
Hotels and restaurants are considering turning off their lights for a half-hour to protest against Morsi, according to the Supporting Tourism Coalition, an independent body representing industry employees.
Cairo University law professors petitioned their dean to let them stop teaching.
“The professors believe they must not teach law under a regime that doesn’t respect the law,” said one of the professors, Khaled Abu Bakr.
The staff of the Internet edition of the al-Ahram daily marched Monday to the journalists’ union in central Cairo to protest what they said was the absence from the draft constitution of guarantees against jailing reporters in defamation cases.
Protests over the draft constitution also spread to state television.
On Sunday, presenter Hala Fahmy carried a white shroud while hosting a current affairs program, according to footage posted on the Internet. She was taken off the air, but not before she told viewers: “We have to tell the truth whatever the price is. We have to carry our shroud in our hands.”
She told the independent al-Masri al-Youm daily newspaper that she planned to sue the station.
Morsi’s moves have plunged an already polarized Egypt in the worst political crisis since the uprising that ousted authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak.
It has divided the country into two camps: Morsi and his Islamic fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, as well as another ultraconservative Islamist group, the Salafis, versus youth groups, liberal parties and large sectors of the public.
The opposition brought out at least 200,000 protesters to Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Nov. 27 and a comparable number on Nov. 30, demanding that Morsi’s decrees be rescinded. Protesters have camped out in the square for 10 days and planned a massive rally at the presidential palace for Tuesday.
The Islamists responded by sending hundreds of thousands of supporters into Cairo’s twin city of Giza on Saturday. Thousands took to the streets and imposed a siege on Egypt’s highest court, the Supreme Constitutional Court.
The court had been widely expected Sunday to declare the constitutional assembly that passed the draft charter to be illegitimate and to disband parliament’s upper house, the Shura Council. Instead, the judges went on strike after they found their building under siege by protesters.
Three of Morsi’s aides have resigned over his decrees. Two members of the official National Council of Human Rights quit Monday, describing the decrees as “disastrous.” They expressed “real fears” of Brotherhood hegemony in Egypt.
The draft constitution has been criticized for not protecting the rights of women and minority groups. Critics say it empowers Islamic religious clerics by giving them a say over legislation, while some articles were seen as tailored to get rid of Islamists’ enemies.
The draft has a new article that seeks to define the principles of Islamic law by pointing to theological doctrines and their rules. Another new article states that Egypt’s most respected Islamic institution, Al-Azhar, must be consulted on any matters related to Shariah law, a measure critics fear could lead to oversight of legislation by clerics.
Rights groups have said that virtually the only references to women relate to the home and family, that the new charter uses overly broad language with respect to the state protecting “ethics and morals,” and that it fails to outlaw gender discrimination.
In the past two days, social networks featured a widely circulated photo-shopped picture of the constituent assembly’s Islamist chairman, Hossam al-Ghiryani, handing Morsi a copy of the draft. The cover of the document had an image of Mickey Mouse.
The powerful judges’ union said Sunday that they would not oversee the referendum, as is customary — a move that would raise questions on the vote’s legitimacy.
On Monday, however, the powerful Supreme Judiciary Council agreed to oversee the voting in a step that legal experts described as “routine.”
In addition, Egypt’s electoral commission, which is led by senior judges, was forced by law to hold a meeting Sunday to discuss preparations for the referendum.
Gaballah, Morsi’s legal adviser, said the election commission held the meeting to organize the referendum. The state-owned Al-Akhbar daily ran a front page photo of the senior judges at the meeting, and Gaballah said that the judges will oversee the vote.
But Yousseri Abdel-Karim, a judge and a former spokesman of the electoral commission, said its mission is purely administrative, and the meeting did not mean that judges are going to oversee the referendum.
“Judges don’t retreat and we fear nothing, and we will not change our position,” he said.
Opposition figures have raised concerns about referendums because in past votes, large numbers of Egyptian voters — many of them illiterate — were easily swayed by Islamists who used religious sentiment to influence the outcomes.
With little time left before the vote, the opposition has yet to come up with a strategy for the referendum. It could try to besiege the headquarters of the election commission. Or it could try to rally supporters to vote “no.”