CAIRO — Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi took extensive new powers for himself on Thursday, freeing his decisions from judicial review and threatening retrials for former top officials, including ex-president Hosni Mubarak.
The decree, issued a day after Morsi won international praise for fostering a cease-fire in Gaza, appears to leave few if any checks on his power. The president said all of the decisions he has made since he took office in June — and until a new constitution is adopted and a parliament elected — were final and not subject to appeal or review.
The announcement, read on state television by Morsi's spokesman, shocked many in this struggling country and street protests quickly erupted.
Morsi's broad assertion of control came less than 24 hours after a diplomatic triumph in arranging the cease-fire in Gaza had given new credence to Morsi's international bona fides. And it raised questions about whether the country might be headed to a return of its Mubarak-era arrangement on the world stage: a country praised for bringing stability to a volatile region and tolerated for abusing rights at home.
Muslim Brotherhood officials, with whom Morsi is allied, said the measures were necessary to ensure the country's full and healthy return to democracy.
"This level of immunity for presidential decrees is indeed unprecedented, but it is necessary and it is controlled by a time frame" that ends with the election of a new parliament, said Gehad el-Haddad, a senior Muslim Brotherhood adviser. "This constitutional declaration cements the way forward in terms of time frame and powers."
But the decision raised concerns among many liberal activists who had already been worried that Morsi had taken a distinctly authoritarian air in the three months since he swept out the top ranks of the military and sidelined what had long been a powerful independent institution in Egypt. Egypt's short-lived parliament was dismissed by the country's high court shortly before Morsi took power. Taking the courts out of the equation means there will be no judicial review of Morsi's decisions.