Monday, December 18, 2017

Morsi signals retreat on power grab

CAIRO — Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's suggestions on Monday that he would scale back broad powers he assumed last week failed to appease the nation's judiciary, which would still not have oversight over certain government institutions, including the Islamist-led assembly drafting the country's new constitution.

Morsi and senior judges met for nearly five hours to discuss their differences after the president declared that his office was free from judicial oversight. Morsi told judges that the decree was meant to be temporary and mainly aimed at shielding the long-troubled assembly writing the nation's new constitution from any judicial attempt to disband it.

Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said after the meeting that Morsi's decree was not designed to "infringe" on the judiciary, suggesting not all of the president's actions would be immune from court review. The Supreme Judicial Council condemned Morsi's expanded powers on Saturday as an "unprecedented attack" on the courts. And Monday's talks did not seem to soften the sentiment of some council members.

"Our meeting with the president has failed to contain the crisis," Abdelrahman Bahloul, a member of the judicial council, told the newspaper Al Masry al Youm. "The statement issued by the presidency is frail and does not represent the members of the council."

The Judges Club, a separate legal organization, also was not satisfied that Morsi had scaled back enough of his authority. It called on its members to continue a partial strike in Alexandria and other cities.

Ziad Akl, a political analyst, said Morsi's negotiations with the judges were a move to show the public he's not a dictator, "but, in reality, his declaration has not changed."

The talks in the presidential palace did not stop anti-Morsi demonstrations in Tahrir Square on Monday. But in a sign tensions may be easing, the Muslim Brotherhood, which Morsi helped lead until his inauguration in June, announced it was canceling a scheduled demonstration today to avoid bloodshed and possible clashes with Morsi opponents.

The consequences of the nation's restiveness played out as Morsi and the judges met, with mourners turning out to bury two boys from opposite political sides who were killed in recent clashes. One was a 16-year-old antigovernment protester reportedly shot with a rubber bullet near Tahrir Square; the other, a 15-year-old struck by a stone when a crowd attacked an office of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party in the Nile Delta.

"The presidency mourns two of the nation's finest young men," Morsi said in a statement.

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