Egyptians Debate What New Decrees Will Mean

In Egypt, the main association of judges is calling for a nationwide strike by the country's courts to protest last week's power grab by the Egyptian president. So far, few courts are taking part.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Political tensions in Egypt are ramping up. The country's new president, Mohamed Morsi, gave himself sweeping new powers. At the same time, he reduced the oversight powers of the country's judiciary system, and he did all of this last week by decree. Demonstrations have already broken out between those who support the president and his party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and those who say Morsi is angling for a dictatorship. The main association of judges in the country is calling for a nationwide strike by Egypt's courts. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has the story from Cairo.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHATTER)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Just how much Egyptians disagree over President Mohamed Morsi's decision to strip the judiciary of its power was evident in downtown Cairo Saturday night. Outside the supreme courthouse, dozens of men debated whether he would save their nation or destroy it. Morsi's new decrees prevent Egyptian courts from overruling him. They also prevent the courts from interfering in the drafting a new constitution or from dissolving what's left of parliament. The decrees' backers argue that he had to stop the judges - most of them appointed during Hosni Mubarak's era - from blocking the elected Islamist government at every turn. Those who oppose the measures say he abandoned the rule of law and has become Egypt's newest dictator.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHATTER)

NELSON: We need to join together if Egypt is to stay strong, argued one Morsi supporter outside the courthouse. Morsi critic Yusuf Sa'ad charged that doing so would betray the revolution that drove Mubarak from power. He said Egyptian democracy can be saved if the judges go on strike.

YUSUF SA'AD: They have power. They could stand against this, but if they fall also, if this power is taken from the citizens of Egypt, who's going to defend us?

NELSON: Inside the courthouse, the head of the Judges' Club vowed to send Morsi supporters into the, quote, "trashcan of history."

AHMED EL-ZEND: (foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Judge Ahmed El-Zend also called on the courts to strike. But on Sunday, few judges and lawyers appeared willing to join him. Courts in only four out of Egypt's 27 governorates were said to be striking. And many of those courts were at least partially open. Morsi, meanwhile, refuses to back down. The powerful Muslim Brotherhood organization called for demonstrations in support of his decrees across Egypt this evening. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.

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