An injured protester rests in a tent as he continues his
sit-in, after Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi issued a
decree widening his powers. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih
Egypt's president negotiated with judges today to try to
defuse a crisis over his seizure of extended powers which set
off violent protests reminiscent of the uprising that thrust
his Islamist movement into government.
The justice minister said he thought President Mohamed Mursi
would agree with a proposal from the highest judicial
authority to curb the scope of new powers. Mursi was "very
optimistic Egyptians would overcome the crisis", his
But the protesters, some camped in Cairo's Tahrir Square,
have said only retracting the decree will satisfy them, a
sign of the deep rift between Islamists and their opponents
that is destabilising Egypt nearly two years after Hosni
"There is no use amending the decree," said Tarek Ahmed, 26,
a protester who stayed the night in Tahrir, where tents
covered the central traffic circle. "It must be scrapped."
One person has been killed and about 370 injured in clashes
between police and protesters since Mursi issued a decree on
Thursday shielding his decisions from judicial review,
emboldened by international plaudits for brokering an end to
eight days of violence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
Mursi's political opponents have accused him of behaving like
a dictator and the West has voiced its concern, worried by
more turbulence in a country that has a peace treaty with
Israel and lies at the heart of the Arab Spring.
Mursi's administration has defended his decree as an effort
to speed up reforms and complete a democratic transformation.
Leftists, liberals, socialists and others say it has exposed
the autocratic impulses of a man once jailed by Mubarak.
Mursi's opponents have called for a protest on Tuesday and
leading leftist, Hamdeen Sabahy, vowed peaceful
demonstrations would continue until the decree was "brought
down", saying Tahrir would a model of an "Egypt that will not
accept a new dictator because it brought down the old one".
"President Mursi is very optimistic that Egyptians will
overcome this challenge as they have overcome other
challenges," presidential spokesman Yasser Ali told
reporters, shortly before the president started his meeting
with members of Egypt's highest judicial authority, the
Supreme Judicial Council.
The Supreme Judicial Council has hinted at a compromise,
saying Mursi's decree should apply only to "sovereign
matters". That suggests it did not reject the declaration
Justice Minister Ahmed Mekky, speaking about the council
statement, said: "I believe President Mohamed Mursi wants
Legal experts said "sovereign matters" could be confined to
issues such as declaring war or calling elections that are
already beyond legal challenge. But they said Egypt's legal
system had sometimes used the term more broadly, suggesting
that any deal could leave wide room for interpretation.
And any deal with a judiciary dominated by Mubarak-era
judges, which Mursi has pledged to reform, may not placate
Though both Islamists and their opponents broadly agree that
the judiciary needs reform, his rivals oppose Mursi's
The Supreme Constitutional Court was responsible for
declaring the Islamist-dominated parliament void, leading to
its dissolution this year. One presidential source said Mursi
was looking for ways to reach a deal to restructure that
A group of lawyers and activists has also challenged Mursi's
decree in an administrative court, which said it would hold
its first hearing on Dec. 4. Other decisions by Mursi have
faced similar legal challenges brought to court by opponents.
The protesters are worried that Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood
aims to dominate the post-Mubarak era after winning the first
democratic parliamentary and presidential elections this
Banners in Tahrir called for dissolving the assembly drawing
up a constitution, an Islamist-dominated body Mursi made
immune from legal challenge. Many liberals and others have
walked out of the assembly saying their voices were not being
Only once a constitution is written can a new parliamentary
election be held. Until then, legislative and executive power
remains in Mursi's hands, and Thursday's decree puts his
decisions above judicial oversight.
One Muslim Brotherhood member was killed and 60 people were
hurt on Sunday in an attack on the main office of the
Brotherhood in the Egyptian Nile Delta town of Damanhour, the
website of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party said.
The party's offices have also been attacked in other cities.
One politician said the scale of the crisis could push
opponents towards a deal to avoid a further escalation.
"I am very cautiously optimistic because the consequences are
quite, quite serious - the most serious they have been since
the revolution," said Mona Makram Ebeid, a former member of
parliament and prominent figure in Egyptian politics.
Mursi's office repeated assurances that the steps would be
temporary, and said he wanted dialogue with political groups
to find "common ground" over what should go into the
But though the presidency has called for dialogue, that has
been rejected by members of the National Salvation Front, a
new opposition coalition of liberals, leftists and other
politicians and parties, who until Mursi's decree had been a
fractious bunch struggling to unite.
The Front includes Sabahy, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed
ElBaradei and former Arab League chief Amr Moussa.
The military has stayed out of the crisis after leading Egypt
through a messy 16-month transition to a presidential
election in June. Analysts say Mursi neutralised the army
when he sacked top generals in August, appointing a new
generation who now owe their advancement to the Islamist
Though the military still wields influence through business
interests and a security role, it is out of frontline