'Life or Death' Moment for the Revolution: Egyptians Erupt in Fury Against Brazen Power Grab
Ramah Casers is an Egyptian mother and graphic designer who lives in Cairo. On Tuesday, November 27 she was standing at the entrance to Tahrir Square holding a simple, hand-written sign that read, “I am an Egyptian citizen and I will not let my country become a dictatorship once again.” She had come to the plaza with her young daughter, who was proudly helping to hold the sign. “I was in this same Tahrir Square during the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak but I haven’t been back since then,” Ramah told me. “I didn’t think any of the mobilizations called during the last two years were that critical. But for this one, I had to be here. This is about the life or death of our revolution.”
Ramah was one of the hundreds of thousands of people filling Tahrir Square to protest the decree issued five days earlier by President Morsi giving himself power to make decisions that could not be challenged by the judiciary.
The decree came just one day after the November 22 Gaza ceasefire agreement between the Israeli government and Hamas, an agreement brokered by Morsi that sent his international prestige skyrocketing. Perhaps the president deemed this a good time to make a move. After all, the transitional process had been dragging on for almost two years and Morsi found himself in pitched battles with both the judiciary branch and his political opponents. The democratically elected lower house of parliament and the first constitution-drafting committee had been dissolved by court orders, and there was speculation that the courts would soon try to disband the upper house of parliament and the Constituent Assembly, the body that is writing the nation’s new constitution. There has also been considerable political opposition to the Constituent Assembly. Many accused Morsi of stacking it with Islamists who had no expertise in constitutional law, leading a number of members to withdraw in protest.
Morsi’s declaration was a complicated one, as it included some positive things for Egypt’s revolutionaries. It removed the unpopular Prosecutor General who was a Mubarak-era holdover and opened up the possibility for the retrial of recently acquitted officials implicated in violence against demonstrators. But outrage was sparked by the proviso that all presidential decisions be immune from judicial review until the adoption of a new constitution.
The president’s insistence that this measure was merely temporary was not reassuring, especially to many of the nation’s lawyers. “This is not about whether you like or trust Morsi; it’s about basic democratic values. We can’t allow a precedent that puts inordinate powers in the hands of a single individual and relieves him of all judicial oversight,” said Cairo attorney Khalid Hussein.
The opposition mobilized immediately. Some headed straight to Tahrir Square to begin a camp out and on Tuesday, merely five days after the decree had been issued, the people responded with a mass mobilization.
Some of those flocking to the plaza had been opposed to Morsi from the beginning. “I was always wary of the Muslim Brotherhood,” one young man wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt told me. “I never wanted to see our society being run by a bunch of religious people. But they were more organized that we secular folks were, and they outmaneuvered us.” Others had no problem with Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood until this latest power grab. “I didn’t vote for Morsi but I supported him as the duly elected president in a process that I considered the first free and fair election in my lifetime,” said Ahmed Mafouz, a 50-year-old engineer who was in the square with his wife. “But this move makes me think that he wants to become another Mubarak, and I just can’t let that happen.”