Morsi Stands By Decrees, Prolonging Showdown

By: AP/CBS (Posted by Melissa Brunner)
By: AP/CBS (Posted by Melissa Brunner)
Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi is resolving not to back down or compromise on steps he announced Thursday, putting himself and a body writing a new constitution above the courts.

Egyptians stand on police vehicles during the funeral of Gaber Salah, who was who was killed in clashes with security forces in Cairo, Egypt, Nov. 26, 2012. / AP Photo/Hussein Tallal

CAIRO (CBS/AP) Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi told the nation's top judges Monday that he acted within his rights when he issued a series of decrees giving him sweeping powers, according to his spokesman.

That stand is likely to trigger a prolonged showdown with the opposition, which have already included days of violent street protests.

Spokesman Yasser Ali told reporters that Morsi assured the judges that the decrees, which put him above any kind of oversight, including that of the courts, did not in any way "infringe" on the judiciary.

Ali's comments signaled Morsi's resolve not to back down or compromise on the steps he announced Thursday, putting himself and a body writing a new constitution above the courts.

Opposition activists have denounced Morsi's decrees as a blatant power grab, and refused to enter a dialogue with the presidency before the edicts are rescinded. The president has vigorously defended the new powers, saying they are necessary to implement badly needed reforms and protect Egypt's transition to democracy.

The judiciary, the main target of Morsi's edicts, has pushed back, calling the decrees an "assault" on the branch's independence. Judges and prosecutors stayed away from many courts in Cairo and other cities on Sunday and Monday.

Both opponents and supporters of Morsi have taken to the streets since Thursday's decree and had planned rival rallies on Tuesday in Cairo. Later Monday, the Muslim Brotherhood announced their pro-Morsi demonstration would be postponed in order to avoid bloodshed, Egypt's state television reported.

A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood said the protest was postponed to "lessen congestion" and avoid "public tension."

The Health Ministry said Monday that a total of 444 people have been wounded nationwide since the clashes erupted on Friday. Forty-nine of these remain hospitalized, it said in a statement carried by official news agency MENA.

In the Nile Delta city of Damanhoor, a teenager was killed late Sunday and at least 40 people were wounded when a group of anti-Morsi protesters tried to storm the local offices of the political arm of the president's fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, the most powerful political force in Egypt.

Ahead of Morsi's Monday meeting with judiciary officials, Egypt's Justice Minister Ahmed Mekki told reporters that a resolution to crisis was "imminent," though he offered no specifics.

Ayman al-Sayyad, a member of Morsi's 17-member advisory council, said the body asked the president in meetings over the weekend to negotiate a way out of the crisis with the judiciary, and enter dialogue with all political forces to iron out differences over the nation's new constitution.

The problem, reports CBS News correspondent Holly Williams, is that Morsi's entrenched opponents, some of those camped out in Cairo's Tahrir square, say nothing will satisfy them short of the complete repeal of decree.

Secular and Christian politicians have withdrawn from a 100-seat panel tasked with drafting the charter, in protest of what they call the hijacking of the process by Morsi's Islamist allies. They fear the Islamists would produce a draft that infringes on the rights of liberals, women and the minority Christians.

The decree is being challenged in an administrative court by a group of activists and lawyers, with the first hearing set for Dec. 4, according to Reuters.

Morsi, an Islamist, accuses Mubarak loyalists in the judiciary of seeking to thwart the revolution's goals. His Thursday edicts bar the judiciary from disbanding the constitutional assembly or parliament's upper house.

The president, al-Sayyad added, would shortly take decisions that would spare the nation a "possible sea of blood." He did not elaborate.

The dispute over the decrees, the latest in the country's bumpy transition to democracy, has taken a toll on the nation's already ailing economy - Egypt's benchmark stock index dropped more than 9.5 percentage points on Sunday, the first day of trading since Morsi's announcement. It fell again Monday during early trading but recovered to close up by 2.6 percentage points.

On Monday, thousands gathered in Damanhoor for the deceased teenager's funeral, while in Cairo thousands more marched through Tahrir Square for the funeral of another young Egyptian killed in clashes with police in the capital. Tahrir was the birthplace of last year's uprising that toppled authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.

An informal truce between the police and protesters staging a sit-in in the square allowed the funeral to go ahead peacefully. The sit-in, which has hundreds of participants, is aimed at forcing Morsi to back down.

Morsi's office said in a statement that he had ordered the country's top prosecutor to investigate the teenager's death, along with that of the man killed in Cairo last week during demonstrations to mark the anniversary of deadly protests last year that called for an end to the then-ruling military.

© 2012 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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