A year ago there were clashes on Mohamed Mahmoud St (the street I live on) which left over 60 people dead. They were fighting with the Central Security Forces (CSF – the paramilitary division of the police) after they were attacked while marching to the Ministry of Interior demanding greater state support for the families and victims of the revolution. After the fighting, walls were built blocking all the roads – bar one – to the Interior ministry.
Last Monday around a thousand people came to Mohammed Mahmoud for the anniversary and tried to take down one of the walls; they succeeded in taking down two of the 1 tonne blocks in the wall before the CSF intervened and pushed them back. They are still fighting with the CSF, who are on the roof of the French Elysee building (pictured above) throwing rocks and chairs and firing tear gas down at the protesters, who are replying in kind with rocks, fireworks and molotovs. Gaber Salah, a member of the 6th April Youth Movement was shot and killed in the first night of fighting.
On Wednesday, Morsi and Hillary Clinton managed to broker a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel and Morsi was showered in praise for his management of the situation. The international praise appears to have gone straight to his head as the very next day he made some constitutional declarations: he removed the Prosecutor General (an old Mubarak appointee who is widely despised and faces accusations of corruption and nepotism) by changing the terms of office; the retrial of everyone, including Mubarak, indicted with regards to the revolution; the immunity of the Constituent Assembly (currently facing mass walk-outs and legal hurdles due to it’s unrepresentative make-up) and Shura Council (the upper house of parliament) from judicial critique and disbandment; and most worrying of all his own immunity from any body, judicial or otherwise, in revoking any edict made from when he assumed the presidency up until a constitution and parliament exist.
Morsi has the mandate for these declarations because he revoked the interim declaration issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in June, thus transferring the authorities they had to the presidency, including absolute legislative authority (which the SCAF only had because the lower house was dissolved due to independent seats being given to Political Parties).
The response to Morsi’s new declarations was immediate. Mohammed El Baradei (Nobel Peace Prize winner and former head of the IAEA), Hamdeen Sabahi and Amr Moussa (ex-presidential candidates) as well as some other notable public figures, called on the people to march to Tahrir and protest this move, which was widely seen as an attempt at legitimizing the President’s role in the revolution. On the one hand he has pandered to the masses regarding the dismissal of the PG and the retrials, but on the other he has taken on massive new powers plus issuing the immunity of the Shura council (Islamist dominated) and the Constituent Assembly (Islamist dominated). As one particularly eloquent man in Tahrir put it, “he has given us honey and poison”.
Tens of thousands were in Tahrir Square last night chanting, “Morsi is Mubarak”, “Down with the regime”, “Morsi is the new Pharaoh”. They have now set up camp in Tahrir Square with about 20 tents erected when I last looked earlier today. There were clashes on Qasr El Aini St and Mohamed Mahmoud St last night between protesters and CSF with scores injured and some arrested. It should be noted that a fair number of people out there just want to fight the police and have no qualms with Morsi’s declaration, but the nominal reason for their being there is just that; Morsi is looking like he’s heading down the dictator route.
It’s no surprise that a people who had a revolution to overthrow a dictator are alarmed that their incumbent is assuming immunity after already having absolute legislative and executive power – his situation is every totalitarian’s wet dream. The question now is whether Morsi is willing, or able for that matter, to backtrack. He claim’s he is the “guardian” of Egypt and it’s revolution and is only doing this because these are “exceptional circumstances” (said every dictator in the history of time) and that he is trying to speed Egypt into a new era of freedom and democracy. If that’s the case, using dictatorial powers seems a slightly perverse way to get there.