Former Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammad Mursi, who assumed sweeping powers on November 22 in a move that sparked accusations of him becoming the “new pharaoh”, became Egypt’s first civilian head of state in June and the first Islamist to lead the Arab world’s most populous nation.
Following the move, Egypt’s Court of Cassation announced last Wednesday that it would go on strike until Mursi rescinded the decree, expanding his powers and rendering his decisions immune from judicial review. Mursi’s decree, described by the opposition as dictatorial, stripped courts of the right to annul the controversial constituent assembly ahead of an expected court ruling on Sunday.
It shields Mursi’s decisions from review by the judiciary, which he and his movement believe retains Mubarak-era appointees who are opposed to the Islamists.
The move has pushed Mursi further into a corner, after crowds poured into the streets to denounce what they saw as a dictatorial decree.
A court had disbanded a previous constituent assembly and was due to rule on the validity of its replacement tomorrow. Egypt’s constituent assembly, early yesterday, adopted a draft constitution that would be put to a referendum, chairman Hossam Al Ghiriani announced.
The Islamist-dominated assembly, boycotted by liberals and Christians, approved the 234 articles in a marathon meeting that started shortly after noon last Thursday and went on all night.
The text, adopted unanimously according to Ghiriani, was to be sent to Mursi and a referendum held in two weeks.
The opposition, which has mobilised unprecedented rallies since Mursi assumed broad powers last week, accuses the president and its allies in the constituent assembly of railroading the charter through for a quick referendum.
The constitution will replace the one suspended after president Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow in early 2011.
The opposition mostly disagreed with the rushed manner in which the assembly was operating and opposes some of the draft charter’s provisions on rights and freedoms.
President Mursi has dismissed criticism of his power grab and said protests on the streets of Cairo were a positive sign that Egypt was on the path to democracy after the overthrow of Mubarak. He vowed in an interview with Time magazine, published last Wednesday, to surrender his new special powers when a new constitution is in place and pleaded for patience as Egypt gradually learns to be free.
The president referred to a two-month process of drafting and vetting the new constitution before it went to the people in a referendum. He said: “If we had a constitution, then all of what I have said or done last week will stop,” he said, wiping his hands to stress his point. “I hope, when we have a constitution, what I have issued will stop immediately.” Asked about warnings from critics that he wants to become a “new pharaoh”, Mursi repeated “New pharaoh?” disbelievingly before letting out a big laugh. “Can I be?” he asked incredulously. “I’ve been suffering, personally!” “I am keen and I will always be keen on transfer of power,” he said. “I’m an elected president.”
Mursi had pledged that under his leadership, Egypt will be inclusive. Ahead of his inauguration, he promised a “civilian state” in an address to “the free world, Arabs, Muslims... the Muslims of Egypt, Christians of Egypt”.
Mursi has vowed to uphold the goals of the revolution and to share power with other parties. However, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took power when Mubarak stepped down, sought to defang the post by granting itself sweeping powers.
Yet, a defiant Mursi, whose predecessors as president have all been generals, threw down the gauntlet to the SCAF. Last Thursday, he issued a decree, allowing him to “issue any decision or measure to protect the revolution,” presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said.
Mursi became the Brotherhood’s candidate only after its first choice, Khairat Al Shater, was disqualified. Mursi beat Ahmad Shafiq, Mubarak’s last premier, with 51.73 per cent of the votes.
Many had written him off as an uncharismatic substitute, saying he would be unable to muster widespread support. However, the powerful Brotherhood mobilised its formidable resources and supporters behind Mursi, who was appointed last year to head its political arm, Freedom and Justice Party.
He has pledged an inclusive presidential institution that “includes all forces, presidential candidates, women, Salafists and our Coptic brothers,” and to end “discrimination against any Egyptian based on religion, ethnicity or gender”.
Born in the Nile Delta province of Sharqiya, Mursi is married, with five children and three grandchildren. Mursi graduated with an engineering degree from Cairo University in 1975. He received a PhD from the University of Southern California, where he was an assistant professor, in 1982.
He was a member of an anti-Israel group, the Committee to Resist Zionism, but dedicated much of his time to the Brotherhood, which first fielded him in a parliamentary election in 2000.
In a 2005 election, which gave the Brotherhood one fifth of the seats in parliament, he kept his seat. However, he was soon arrested and jailed for seven months after taking part in protests supporting reformist judges.
By the 2010 election, Mursi had become a spokesman for the Islamists and a member of their politburo. He was jailed again on the morning of January 28, 2011, a day after the Brotherhood announced it would join the protests that would topple Mubarak almost two weeks later.
Mursi and other Brotherhood leaders arrested at the time served only a few days before being sprung from jail in massive prison breaks across the country.
The Brotherhood believes in establishing an Islamic state gradually and through peaceful means, but Mursi’s focus has mostly been on issues affecting the majority of Egyptians since the revolt, such as the deteriorating economy.