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Morsy edict divides Egypt but unifies opponents, critics and observers say

By Melissa Gray, CNN
updated 11:39 AM EST, Mon November 26, 2012
  • Critics call Morsy a dictator acting in Mubarak's footsteps
  • Morsy declared last week no court can overturn his decisions
  • Experts say it is dividing society, but unifying his opponents
  • They say his moves are intended to strengthen Islamists

(CNN) -- Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy's decree last week giving him a host of new powers has divided society, but it has also unified opposition groups that fear any moves toward Islamic rule, critics and observers said Sunday.

Morsy assures his people that his moves are only temporary and intended to clear the political obstacles posed by remnants of the old regime. An order banning courts from overturning any decisions he has made or will make in the next six months, Morsy says, will last only until a new constitution is put together.

Protests continue as Morsy defends edict

His critics, however, say Morsy has made himself into a dictator -- and that dictators can't be trusted.

"We, as citizens, no longer have safeguards for our freedoms and rights," Amr Hamzawy, a former member of parliament and a member of Egypt's Freedom Party, told CNN on Sunday.

A street vendor grills corn as Egyptian soldiers stand guard at the Presidential Palace on Tuesday, December 18, in Cairo. Protesters opposed to President Mohamed Morsy's first round of voting in the constitutional referendum gather during continuing demonstrations. A street vendor grills corn as Egyptian soldiers stand guard at the Presidential Palace on Tuesday, December 18, in Cairo. Protesters opposed to President Mohamed Morsy's first round of voting in the constitutional referendum gather during continuing demonstrations.
Egyptians protest presidential powers
Egyptians protest president\'s powers Egyptians protest president's powers
Anger over Morsy power grab
Egyptian protesters battle police
Walking through the Cairo protests

Even if Morsy stays true to his word and rescinds the decree after the constitution is finalized, he will have managed to consolidate more power, said Eric Trager, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"By the time you get that new constitution, it will have been written by an Islamist-dominated assembly that all non-Islamists have completely abandoned, and the new parliamentary elections will likely exclude members of the former ruling party who posed the greatest threat to his authority," Trager told CNN.

Morsy also ordered new trials and new investigations involving the deaths of protesters during last year's pro-democracy uprising, which Trager said will "very clearly" be used to go after major figures from the former ruling party. Some of them are in fact corrupt, he said, but others may not have been.

Cabinet Chief Mohamed Refa'a al-Tahtawi told CNN on Friday that the majority of Egyptians were eager to see Morsy act with a strong hand to forge progress in a government he says is impeded by former regime members.

Peter Jones, a Middle East expert at the University of Ottawa, says it's true that many Egyptians are frustrated with the lack of progress, but opponents feel Morsy's actions are not the answer.

"It's not that the changes that Morsy is making are necessarily unpopular," Jones told CNN. "It's the way he's doing it that has gotten people upset, because it reminds them of the way Mubarak used to govern."

One popular slogan during protests last week, The Independent newspaper said, was "Morsy is Mubarak."

"I don't want another dictator," Cairo resident and CNN iReporter Ahmed Raafat said after demonstrating in Tahrir Square. "I protested against Mubarak and the military council because they were dictators, so I will continue protesting against Morsy if it keeps him from following their footsteps."

Hamzawy and others say Morsy has created a deeply polarized society and forestalled a national dialogue on the next political steps.

At the same time, Trager says, Morsy's actions have also unified his opponents.

"The non-Islamists had previously been divided between leftists, Nasrists, socialists, communists, Christians, liberals, and by seizing executive power and trashing the judicial oversight so brazenly, Morsy has enabled them to paper over their other divisions."

Experts say it's possible that in issuing his edicts Thursday, Morsy was trying to build on the international acclaim he garnered for helping to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas a day earlier.

"He's been considering this sort of thing for a while, I expect," Jones said, referring to the edicts. "But given his role in Gaza ... I think he thought this would be a good time to act."

Trager agreed that Morsy may have tried to use the good will he received after the Gaza crisis to his advantage, "but really, I think domestic factors and a desire to consolidate the Muslim Brotherhood's power were the primary catalyst."

After Morsy's announcement, protesters focused their fury on the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement that has become Egypt's leading political force after being banned under Mubarak. The group has rallied in support of Morsy, its former leader.

Protesters attacked Muslim Brotherhood offices in several cities Friday.

"No transition will hold if Egypt becomes more polarized," wrote The Guardian newspaper Friday. "Mr. Morsy still needs a consensus to govern."

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