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Egypt Divided Over Morsi Power Grab


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. Thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Egypt today, some in support of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, others condemning what they called a power grab by the president that puts Egypt on the path to one-man rule. It is, in short, a nation visibly divided today. NPR's Leila Fadel joins us now from Cairo.

And Leila, President Morsi addressed his supporters today and actually tried to reassure the nation about the new powers he has assumed. What else did he have to say?

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Well, he basically told his supporters, trust me, I won't abuse these exceptional powers, but they're absolutely necessary to get us on the path to democracy. So his reassurances fell quite hollow on people who are in opposition of this decision, worried about a dictatorship, but he told his supporters this is the way to get rid of the remnants of Mubarak's regime that are standing in our way to democracy.

CORNISH: What exactly are the details of the unilateral decrees President Morsi issued?

FADEL: Well, he essentially neutralized the judiciary, which was the only check that Morsi had on power. He currently holds both the executive and legislative powers in his hands because there's no parliament. And so right now, if Morsi issues a law, there is no way to appeal that law. He also protected the constituent assembly, which is tasked with writing Egypt's constitution as well as the Shura Council, the upper house of Parliament, from any judicial challenges.

He said this was because these bodies all have popular mandate and the courts do not. He also said that he can do anything he wants to protect Egypt's revolution.

CORNISH: Now, you actually spoke with some of those who were protesting against Morsi's decrees. Who are these people and what did they tell you?

FADEL: Well, what I found when I went out to these protests today, that generally they were among the political liberal elite. They're not necessarily representative of the majority of Egyptians. But thousands of people turned out and said, listen, we didn't oust one dictator to get another dictator elected. They say this is a power grab that might not be reversible, and unacceptable to them.

And what they want is for Morsi to reverse his decisions.

CORNISH: And then, we read that across town at the presidential palace you've also got demonstrators turning out in the thousands to support Morsi. Who's in that crowd?

FADEL: Well, this crowd was mostly Islamists. They said they feel that - they're tired of the liberals trying to push their will on the majority, is what they said. They said they have faith in Morsi and that they understand that he's dealing with a corrupt system that's working against him. So they say, put your trust in him. It's a limited amount of time that these decrees are valid. Once the constitution is in place, they'll be void. We want to support Morsi's decision.

CORNISH: Now, you were also able to speak with a senior advisor to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party, who was actually critical of the courts. Can you give us their perspective?

FADEL: His name was Gehad Haddad and he basically said, listen, we have a problem with the constitutional courts. It's gotten in the way of every piece of progress that we've tried to make politically. We elected a parliament, it dissolved it. We are trying to put out a constitution and there's a case right now, filed by liberals and seculars that are trying to disband it because it's dominated by Islamists.

But that he's saying that in the end, the popular mandate goes to the president, the constituent assembly and the upper house of parliament that still exists because those were elected by the people and the courts were not. So he says he's really - it may be an exceptional measure, but a necessary measure to get onto a path where there will be a stable political system. Otherwise, he says, this will never end.

CORNISH: Now, a lot is being made about the timing of this. Why did Morsi issue these decrees yesterday?

FADEL: Well, observers say he really picked a politically shrewd moment to do it. He received international accolades for a cease-fire that was brokered by Egypt between Hamas and Israel and it's also a time where people are tired of the political bickering, tired of the continual steps and two steps back of the process and they want a government that will solve real problems, like transportation issues, like the economy, like unemployment.

So many people are actually likely to be supportive of Morsi's decisions because of this. And also many people were supportive of another decision he made, which is to retry Mubarak and his top aides, something that will really cater to public sentiment.

CORNISH: Although the human rights groups are concerned about the powers and how they'll undermine rule of law in Egypt.

FADEL: Yes. Human rights groups acknowledge that there are problems with the judicial system, but they feel that this is not the way to reform it, to completely cut it out. By doing this, by making these decisions, Morsi effectively made himself unaccountable in the only legal system in Egypt, and that's a truly concerning thing for human rights groups where he can just do whatever he wants right now.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Leila Fadel in Cairo. Leila, thank you.

FADEL: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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