Egyptian President Morsi Makes Power Grab

Mohammed Morsi has issued a constitutional decree that his critics say effectively returns Egypt back to one-man rule. Morsi went on state television to announce that any decree or law he issues cannot be challenged in court. He also sacked the chief prosecutor and ordered the retrial of people accused of attacking protesters during the overthrow of the previous regime of Hosni Mubarak.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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And I'm Linda Wertheimer. The streets of Egyptian cities are flooded with demonstrators today. In Cairo and Alexandria, Port Said and Suez, thousands are protesting the president for issuing a decree that gives him immense power over all the branches of government. There are street fights in some places, between opponents and supporters of President Mohamed Morsi. He spoke earlier today, saying he was acting on behalf of God and the nation.

NPR's Leila Fadel joins us now from the Egyptian capital, Cairo. She's in Tahrir Square. Good morning, Leila.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Good morning.

WERTHEIMER: Now, where you are, we can hear protestors around you. What's going on?

FADEL: Well, all around me are thousands of protestors, mostly really from the political liberal elite, saying they want the fall of the regime. The same chants that people used over a year ago against former strongman Hosni Mubarak here, saying that the elected Islamist president is on the path to dictatorship.

WERTHEIMER: This seems to be a very different Morsi that we're seeing today, even from the person we've seen a few days ago. A couple of days ago he was praised by all sorts of people for negotiating a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Today, the U.N. is criticizing him and many of his people are upset. Why did he do this now?

FADEL: Well, domestically, there are a slew of problems. The constituent assembly, a body tasked with writing Egypt's most important document, the constitution, is falling apart. Liberals, church member officials have pulled out of that body. And a court case was pending, possibly dissolving it, making everybody have to start over. So Morsi, here, took the power all in his own hands, saying an elected official is better than Mubarak regime officials deciding the future. He's saying that when the constitution is done, I will give up these powers, but for now, it is in my hands to put the country on the path to democracy. Of course, his critics say, we don't trust you, you have all the power in your hands, and how can we trust that the constitution will be representative of all of us and not just the Islamists and your supporters.

WERTHEIMER: Now, we're also hearing of conflict within Morsi's administration. His top aide, which is supposed to oversee Egypt's transformation to a democracy, has resigned. Has Morsi created a situation that he can't resolve?

FADEL: At this point, we're only seeing that one resignation, the Christian advisor to Mohamed Morsi obviously resigning in protest over these decisions. It's unclear if he'll be able to contain the protests against him. But at this point, also, we're not seeing an irreversible momentum of protests. This is not a cross-section of the society, so it's unclear, really, how much of Egypt is against those decisions he made yesterday. And there's also a part of the criticism that you're hearing in the square today, saying Morsi cares more about Gaza and the Palestinians than his own people and the economy and the future of this democracy.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Leila Fadel speaking to us from Tahrir Square in Cairo.

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