Last updated: 26 November, 2012

Morsi and judges to hold Egypt crisis talks

President Mohamed Morsi met senior judges on Monday to defuse a bitter dispute over a power grab that has worsened a political crisis in Egypt less than two years after its Arab Spring revolt.

The crunch talks came on the eve of planned protests by rival forces, although the Muslim Brotherhood party from which the president hails withdrew its call for a rally out of fears that it would spark more clashes.

A court will next week examine the legality of the decree by which Morsi assumed sweeping powers on Thursday, an official said, as demonstrators opposed to the Islamist leader staged a sit-in at Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square.

Hundreds of mourners turned out, meanwhile, for the burial of a member of the president’s party who was killed Sunday in violence outside its offices in the Nile Delta town of Damanhour.

Angry demonstrators have also torched offices belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).

In Cairo, thousands marched at the funeral of Gaber Salah, a member of the April 6 movement who died last week from injuries suffered in clashes near Tahrir Square.

The movement is one of the pro-democracy groups that called for last year’s uprising the toppled the regime of longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Morsi’s decree — which allows him to issue decisions and laws unchallenged on a temporary basis — led to charges that he is taking on dictatorial powers.

Some courts have suspended work in protest, and journalists have decided in principle to strike.

The constitutional declaration states that the president can issue “any decision or measure to protect the revolution,” which are final and not subject to appeal.

Abdel Meguid al-Moqannen, deputy chief of Egypt’s highest administrative body, the State Council, said the administrative court would examine the case on December 4.

More than 12 lawsuits had been filed against the decree, the official MENA news agency cited him as saying.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) slammed the decree, saying it could allow unchecked human rights violations and that it undermined the rule of law.

“If Morsi were to pass a law violating human rights, victims would have no means to challenge the law on the basis of rights set out in March 30 2011 constitutional declaration,” the New York-based watchdog said.

In a move to assuage critics, Morsi was to meet the Supreme Judicial Council following preliminary talks between it and Justice Minister Ahmed Mekki, the president’s spokesman Yasser Ali said.

Ahead of the talks, key opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei ruled out any compromise with “a president who is imposing a dictatorship,” but Mekki said curbs on the widened powers could be discussed.

An amendment could be added to specify that Morsi’s decisions “apply only to issues related to his sovereign powers and not administrative decisions,” the minister said.

On Sunday, Morsi stressed the “temporary nature” of the measures, which are valid only until a new constitution is adopted and elections held.

He said the measures were also “deemed necessary in order to hold accountable those responsible for… crimes during the previous regime.”

HRW said “the president also issued a law providing for new investigations of those responsible for violence against protesters.

“But the law creates a new court to prosecute people under vaguely defined and overly broad laws dating from Mubarak’s rule which have historically allowed for abuse.”

Mubarak and his interior minister were sentenced to life over the killing of protesters in last year’s uprising, in which some 850 activists died.

Six security chiefs were acquitted in the same case, sparking outrage.

The presidency on Sunday stressed its commitment to dialogue “to reach a national consensus on the constitution, which will be the cornerstone of modern Egyptian institutions.”

But former UN nuclear watchdog chief ElBaradei, and ex-presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabbahi, Amr Mussa and Abdelmoneim Abul Futuh said on Saturday that they would have no dialogue with Morsi until he rescinded his decree.

The Brotherhood has called a “million man” march on Tuesday near Cairo University to coincide with a huge demonstration planned by Morsi opponents in Tahrir Square on the opposite side of the Nile river.

The FJP says Morsi’s decree was necessary to prevent courts from disbanding the Islamist-dominated panel drafting the new constitution. Judges have slammed what they called “an unprecedented attack on the independence of the judiciary.”