Egypt’s Brotherhood calls for protests, judges urge for strikes

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood called for protests across the country on Sunday to support President Mohammed Mursi, while the country’s judges urged for a nationwide strike against a decree they saw as granting Mursi new, extensive powers.

The Brotherhood’s protest requests came as Egypt’s Judges Club, a body that represents judges throughout the country, called for “the suspension of work in all courts and prosecution administrations,” after several hours of emergency talks in response to what they called Mursi’s “ferocious attack on Egyptian justice.”

On the ground, clashes erupted outside the High Court between supporters and opponents of Mursi’s new constitutional declaration while the Judges Club held an hours-long emergency meeting inside.

“Some supporters of the declaration shot off fireworks at the gates of the court, and police fired teargas at protesters after they attempted to storm the building,” reported Egypt Independent.

Protesters favoring the declaration started chanting “the people demand the execution of Abdel Maguid,” according to the newspaper, in reference to former Prosecutor General Mahmoud Abdel Meguid, who was sacked after Mursi’s new declaration and was attending the meeting inside.

During Saturday’s meeting, defiant Egyptian judges demanded the president retract a decree granting himself sweeping powers that put him beyond judicial oversight.

As the judges met, civil groups led former U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei, and former presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabbahi, Amr Mussa and Abdelmoneim Abul Futuh, said there could be no dialogue with Mursi until he rescinded the decree.

“We refuse any dialogue with the president until he cancels the constitutional declaration,” according to a joint statement read out at a news conference.

Several judicial bodies have condemned Mursi’s decree, with the Supreme Judicial Council, denouncing it as “an unprecedented attack on the independence of the judiciary and its rulings.”

Earlier on Saturday, the Judges Club of Alexandria announced a strike in the provinces of Alexandria and Beheira and said they “will accept nothing less than the cancellation of (Mursi’s decree),” which violates the principle of separation of powers, club chief Mohammed Ezzat al-Agwa said.

In the same vain, Egypt’s Shura council (upper house of parliament), dominated mainly by Islamists, said it will hold a meeting Sunday morning to discuss the repercussions of the declaration, according to Al Arabiya.

The president already held both and executive and legislative powers, and his Thursday decree puts him beyond judicial oversight until a new constitution has been ratified in a referendum.

The decree also means that the Islamist-dominated panel drawing up a new constitution can no longer be touched and gives it a two-month extension until February to complete its work.

Rallies by Mursi supporters, foes

A hard core group of opposition activists spent the night in Tahrir Square — the epicentre of the anti-Mubarak uprising — where they erected some 30 tents, an AFP correspondent reported.When others attempted to join them in the morning, police fired volleys of tear gas and forced them to retreat into surrounding streets, reported AFP.

The mainly secular liberals say they are determined to keep up the momentum of protests against Mursi’s decree and have called a new mass protest in Tahrir onTuesday.

The Muslim Brotherhood called on its own supporters to take to the streets on Tuesday in Abdeen Square, just streets away from Tahrir, to show their support for Mursi.

“Egypt is at the start of a new revolution because it was never our intention to replace one dictator with another,” activist Mohammed al-Gamal told AFP, showing his broken spectacles and hand in a plaster cast than he said were the result of police action.

Washington, which only Wednesday voiced fulsome praise for Mursi’s role in brokering a truce between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers to end eight days of deadly violence, led international criticism of the Islamist president’s move.

But a spokesman for the Freedom and Justice Party, headed by Mursi before his election, said the president’s decree was necessary to cut short the turbulent transition.

“We need stability,” said Murad Ali. “That’s not going to happen if we go back again to allowing the judges, who have personal reasons, to dissolve the constituent assembly in order to prolong the transitional phase.”

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Embattled Morsi calls out his backers

Both sides of Egypt’s political divide take to the streets as judges join protest against President’s controversial decree

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has called for a mass demonstration in Cairo this week to show support for the embattled President, Mohamed Morsi, who is facing widespread protests over his controversial decree granting him extensive new powers.

In a statement published on its website, the Brotherhood also called for demonstrations in public squares across the country after early evening prayers today.

The latest blow to Mr Morsi came yesterday when the Supreme Judicial Council, Egypt’s highest body of judges, called the move by the President to grant himself near-absolute power an “unprecedented assault” on the judiciary.

Through their statement, the judges joined a growing list of leaders and activists from Egypt’s political factions, including some Islamists, who have denounced the decree Mr Morsi says is necessary to “protect the revolution”. The council’s move reflects the anger within the judiciary.

Mr Morsi has accused pro-Mubarak elements in the judiciary, many of whom were appointed by the former president, of blocking political progress. In the past year, courts have dissolved the lower house of parliament as well as the first panel drafting the constitution, both led by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The council’s stand against the President sets the ground for an uneasy alliance between former regime officials and activist groups that helped to topple Mubarak’s regime and have in the past derided those officials as “felool”, or remnants.

The Presidents’ opponents see the judiciary as the only civilian branch of government with a degree of independence, as Mr Morsi holds both executive power and legislative authority.

The judges released their statement following an emergency meeting yesterday. They described Mr Morsi’s decree as an “unprecedented assault on the judiciary and its rulings” and called on the President to “distance himself from the declaration and all things that touch judicial authority, its specifications or interference in its members or its rulings.”

The primary court and the judges’ club in Alexandria announced that they and public prosecutors have suspended all work until the declaration is withdrawn, according to the state news agency, MENA.

Parties opposed to the decree have called for a protest on Tuesday in Cairo, though in a different square from the one where the Brotherhood called on its supporters to gather.

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Hamas says ‘Israel failed in its goals’, thanks Iran

Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal said on Wednesday that Israel had “failed in all its goals” after a Gaza truce deal came into effect, while thanking Egypt and Iran for their support during the conflict.

“After eight days, God stayed their hand from the people of Gaza, and they were compelled to submit to the conditions of the resistance,” Meshaal said.

“Israel has failed in all its goals,” he told reporters in a Cairo hotel.

Meshaal also thanked ceasefire mediator Egypt, as well as Iran, which he said “had a role in arming” his Islamist movement during the conflict.

“I would like to thank our dear Egypt, aided by the brave elected President Mohamed Morsi… Egypt acted responsibly and understood the demands of the resistance and the Palestinian people,” he said.

Meshaal also praised Iran, despite “disagreements on the situation in Syria”.

And the Hamas leader warned Israel against violating the agreement.

“If you commit, we will commit. If you do not commit, the rifles are in our hands,” he said.

Earlier, Egypt announced the ceasefire agreement would come into effect at 1900 GMT on the eighth day of Gaza-linked violence that has killed at least 155 Palestinians and five Israelis.

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EGYPT BROTHERHOOD LEADER BLASTS PEACE WITH ISRAEL

The top leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood denounced peace efforts with Israel and urged holy war to liberate Palestinian territories on Thursday – one day after the country’s president, who hails from the movement, mediated a cease-fire between Israelis and Palestinians to end eight days of fierce fighting.

“The enemy knows nothing but the language of force,” said Mohammed Badie. “Be aware of the game of grand deception with which they depict peace accords,” he said in a statement carried on the group’s website and emailed to reporters.

His statement was a sharp deviation from the role played by President Mohammed Morsi in the last week. Egypt’s role in brokering the deal has been hailed by U.S. officials.

The Brotherhood sometimes delivers conflicting messages, depending on its audience. There are also ideological and generational divisions within the movement, with older leaders like Badie often seen as more conservative.

The Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t recognize Israel and – at least officially – its members refuse to hold direct talks with Israeli officials. But Morsi has said that he will abide by the terms of Egypt’s 1979 treaty with Israel, and many members say they are in little hurry to enter into armed conflict with the Jewish state.

Badie declared that “jihad is obligatory” for Muslims. But he also said that taking up arms would be the “last stage,” only after Muslims achieved unity. “The use of force and arms while the group is fragmented and disconnected, unorganized, weak in conviction, with faint faith – this will be destined for death.”

In the meantime, he called on Muslims to “back your brothers in Palestine. Supply them with what they need, seek victory for them in all international arenas.” Badie’s title – General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood – also implies a leadership role in the Islamist group’s sister movements across the world.

Under the deal, Gaza’s ruling Hamas is to stop rocket fire into Israel while Israel is to cease attacks and allow the opening of the strip’s long-blockaded borders.

The Hamas-Israel fighting was the first major international test for Morsi, who was caught between either supporting Hamas, one of the Egyptian Brotherhood’s sister movements, and Cairo’s regional and international commitments.

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Morsi Asserts New Powers and Orders Ex-Officials Retried

Egypt’s Islamist president unilaterally decreed greater authorities for himself Thursday and effectively neutralized a judicial system that had emerged as a key opponent by declaring that the courts are barred from challenging his decisions.

Riding high on U.S. and international praise for mediating a Gaza cease-fire, Mohammed Morsi put himself above oversight and gave protection to the Islamist-led assembly writing a new constitution from a looming threat of dissolution by court order.

But the move is likely to fuel growing public anger that he and his Muslim Brotherhood are seizing too much power.

In what was interpreted by rights activists as a de facto declaration of emergency law, one of Morsi’s decrees gave him the power to take “due measures and steps” to deal with any “threat” to the revolution, national unity and safety or anything that obstructs the work of state institutions.

Morsi framed his decisions as necessary to protect the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago and to cement the nation’s transition to democratic rule. Many activists, including opponents of the Brotherhood, criticize the judiciary as packed with judges and prosecutors sympathetic to Mubarak. Brotherhood supporters accuse the courts of trying to block their agenda.

“He had to act to save the country and protect the course of the revolution,” said one of Morsi’s aides, Pakinam al-Sharqawi, speaking on Al-Jazeera. “It is a major stage in the process of completing the January 25th revolution,” she said, alluding to the starting day of last year’s uprising against Mubarak.

In a nod to revolutionary sentiment, Morsi also ordered the retrial of Mubarak and top aides on charges of killing protesters during the uprising. He also created a new “protection of the revolution” judicial body to swiftly carry out the prosecutions. But he did not order retrials for lower-level police acquitted of such killings, another widespread popular demand that would disillusion the security forces if carried out.

Liberal politicians immediately criticized the decrees as dictatorial and destined to divide a nation already reeling from months of turmoil following Mubarak’s ouster. Some said they exceeded the powers once enjoyed by Mubarak.

“Morsi today usurped all state powers & appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh,” pro-reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on Twitter. “A major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences.”

ElBaradei later addressed a news conference flanked by other prominent politicians from outside the Brotherhood, including two presidential candidates who ran against Morsi, Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi.

They pledged to cooperate to force Morsi to rescind his assumption of greater powers. “We will work together as Egyptians until we achieve the goals of our revolution,” said ElBaradei, a former director of the U.N.’s nuclear agency and Nobel peace laureate.

They called for mass protests Friday to demand the dissolution of the declarations. The audience interrupted the press conference, chanting “Down with the Guide’s rule,” referring to the Supreme Guide of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group, Mohammed Badie.

The prospect of large rival protests involving Morsi’s opponents and supporters in Cairo on Friday raises the likelihood of clashes.

Thousands from the rival camps were already out on the streets of Cairo late Thursday in an increasingly charged atmosphere.

A crowd of Brotherhood supporters massed outside the Supreme Court building and offices of the prosecutor general — whom Morsi removed in Thursday’s edict. They chanted slogans for “the cleansing of the judiciary,” shouting, “The people support the president’s decisions.” Leading Brotherhood member Mohammed el-Beltagi, attending the rally, singled out several critics of Morsi from among the ranks of the judiciary for criticism.

Meanwhile, blocks away near Tahrir Square, hundreds of demonstrators held a fourth straight day of protests against Morsi and the Brotherhood. “Brotherhood is banned from entry,” declared a large banner at the protest.

Wael Ghonim, an icon of the anti-Mubarak uprising, rejected Morsi’s decisions, arguing the president could have protected the revolution without concentrating so much power in his hands.

“The revolution was not staged in search for a benign dictator, there is a difference between revolutionary decisions and dictatorial decisions. God is the only one whose decisions are not questioned.”

The Egyptian leader decreed that all decisions he has made since taking office in June and until a new constitution is adopted and a new parliament is elected cannot be appealed in court or by any other authority. Parliamentary elections are not likely before next spring.

The decree also barred the courts from dissolving the controversy-plagued assembly writing the new constitution. Several courts have been looking into lawsuits demanding the panel be disbanded.

The Brotherhood and Morsi allies who dominate the assembly have pushed to give the draft an Islamist slant that opponents fear would marginalize women and minority Christians, infringe on personal liberties and even give Muslim clerics a say in lawmaking. Liberal and Christian members withdrew from the assembly during the past week to protest what they say is the hijacking of the process by Morsi’s allies.

Morsi on Thursday extended by two months, until February, the deadline for the assembly to produce a draft, apparently to give members more time to iron out their differences.

He also barred any court from dissolving the Islamist-led upper house of parliament, a largely toothless body that has also faced court cases.

The president made most of the changes Thursday in a declaration amending an interim constitution that has been in effect since shortly after Mubarak’s fall and has over time become a ramshackle patchwork. The military, which took power after Mubarak, set the precedent for the executive unilaterally issuing constitutional changes, which it did several times during its 16-month rule.

The moves come as Morsi basks in lavish praise from President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for mediating an end to eight days of fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers. Clinton was in Cairo on Wednesday, when she held extensive talks with Morsi.

Morsi not only holds executive power, he also has legislative authority after a previous court ruling just before he took office on June 30 dissolved the powerful lower house of parliament, which was led by the Brotherhood. With two branches of power in his hands, Morsi effectively took away many prerogatives of the third, the judiciary.

The provision for a retrial of Mubarak appeared to be a gesture to public opinion. The decree called for “new investigations and trials” against those who held “political or executive” positions in the old regime and who are accused of killing protesters.

Mubarak was convicted in June to life in prison for failing to stop the killing of protesters during last year’s uprising against his rule, but many Egyptians were angered that he wasn’t convicted of actually ordering the crackdown and that his security chief, Habib el-Adly, was not sentenced to death. Several top police commanders were acquitted, and Mubarak and his sons were found not guilty of corruption charges.

But the decree would not mean retrials for the dozens of lower-level police officers who have been acquitted or received suspended sentences in trials for killing protesters — verdicts that have outraged many Egyptians. That exclusion will guarantee Morsi the loyalty of the powerful but hated police force.

Morsi on Thursday also fired the country’s top prosecutor, Abdel-Maguid Mahmoud. A Mubarak-era appointee, Mahmoud has faced widespread accusations that his office did a shoddy job collecting evidence against Mubarak, el-Adly and the police in trials.

Morsi first fired Mahmoud in October but had to rescind his decision when he found that the powers of his office do not empower him to do so. So on Thursday, he decreed that the prosecutor general could serve in office only for four years, with immediate effect on Mahmoud, who had held the post since 2006. Morsi replaced Mahmoud with Talaat Abdullah, a career judge, and swiftly swore him in.

Thursday’s decisions were read on state television by Morsi’s spokesman, Yasser Ali. In a throwback to the days of the authoritarian Mubarak and his predecessors Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the television followed up with a slew of nationalist songs.

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Israel ready to ‘significantly expand’ Gaza offensive

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a stern warning to Hamas on Sunday, declaring that the Israeli army was prepared to significantly widen its Gaza offensive. Netanyahu’s threat came as Hamas launched a fresh rocket attack on Tel Aviv.

The Israeli army is ready to “significantly expand” its operation in Gaza, the country’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday as Hamas launched fresh rocket attacks on Tel Aviv.
Speaking at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said “The soldiers are ready for any activity that could take place”.
Netanyahu issued the warning as Israel’s “Iron Dome” system intercepted two rockets aimed at Tel Aviv. Hamas militants admitted responsibility for the latest rocket attack on Israel’s commercial capital.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry told FRANCE24 that a ground offensive into Gaza was likely if the rocket attacks continued.
“Our sole aim of this offensive is to make Hamas stop firing rockets. We have used air strikes but if that’s not enough then we may contemplate ground operations as well,” Ygal Palmor from the Israeli foreign ministry told FRANCE 24 on Sunday.
“If rockets are being fired then that will bring the ground operation forward,” he added.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also said on Sunday that Israel would not negotiate a truce with the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers as long as rocket fire continues from the Palestinian enclave.
Israel’s operation has drawn Western support for what US and European leaders have called Israel’s right to self-defence, but there have also been a growing number of calls from world leaders to seek an end to the violence.On Sunday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned that a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip “would lose Israel a lot of the international support and sympathy that they have in this situation.”

Hague told Sky News television it was much more difficult to limit civilian casualties in a ground assault and said it would threaten to prolong the conflict.

Air and sea raids continue

Fifty Palestinians, about half of them civilians, including 14 children, have been killed since the Israeli offensive began, Palestinian officials said. More than 500 rockets fired from Gaza have hit Israel, killing three civilians.

Since Israel unleashed its massive air campaign on Wednesday, the Jewish state has launched more than 950 air strikes on the coastal Palestinian territory, targeting weaponry and flattening militant homes and headquarters.
The raids continued past midnight on Sunday, with warships bombarding targets from the sea. An air raid targeted a building in Gaza City housing the offices of local Arab media, wounding three journalists from al Quds television, a station Israel sees as pro-Hamas, witnesses said.
The TV building also housed journalists from Britain’s ITN news and Sky News networks.
Three other attacks killed three children and wounded 14 other people, medical officials said.
Violence ‘shatters’ hopes of peace
The night of violence represents a blow to peace efforts, which have been lead by Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi, who on Saturday said there were indications a truce could “soon” be reached.
FRANCE 24’s correspondent Gallagher Fenwick, reporting from Gaza, witnessed the latest night of violence.
“Throughout the night we heard very heavy shelling, most of it coming from Israeli warships stationed off the coast. The sound of Apache helicopters and drones flying low overhead could also be heard,” Fenwick said on Sunday.
“The Israeli Air Force has published a statement saying it had hit what it called ‘terrorist targets’ across the Gaza Strip, including rocket-launching facilities and other Hamas infrastructure. For their part, the Palestinian factions are claiming responsibility for rockets being fired towards Israel,” said Fenwick.
“It has really shattered the hopes that were raised on Saturday night when rumours came out of Cairo that a truce might be brokered between the two sides,” he continued. “Considering the night we have just had, it appears we are heading in the opposite direction.”
On Sunday, France also became involved in attempts to bring peace to the region with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius travelling to Israel to try and broker a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.
During his one-day visit Fabius is due to meet with Israeli leaders as well as with the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, diplomatic sources told AFP.
Egypt’s foreign ministry said that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will head to Cairo on Monday for talks with the president and other officials on the crisis in Gaza.
Israeli President Shimon Peres said in an interview with Britain’s Sky News on Sunday he welcomed efforts by his Egyptian counterpart to secure a ceasefire in the Gaza conflict but accused Hamas of rejecting the proposals.
A delegation of ministers from the Arab League are due to visit the Gaza Strip on Tuesday in what a league official described as a “show of support for the territory”.
Israel said it would keep schools in its southern region shut on Sunday as a precaution to avoid casualties from rockets.
On Saturday, in the Israeli Mediterranean port of Ashdod, a rocket ripped into several balconies. Police said five people were hurt.