Morsi backpedaling on decree

David D. Kirkpatrick / New York Times News Service /

CAIRO — President Mohammed Morsi agreed Monday to scale back a sweeping decree he had issued last week that raised his edicts above any judicial review, according to a report by a television network allied with his party.

The agreement, reached with top judicial authorities, would leave most of Morsi’s actions subject to review by the courts but preserve a crucial power: protecting the constitutional council from being dissolved by the courts before it finishes its work.

Cracks appeared in Morsi’s government Sunday over the decree after the justice minister, Ahmed Mekki, began arguing for a retreat, and at least three other senior advisers resigned over the measure. The move had also prompted widening street protests and cries from opponents that Morsi, who already governs without a legislature, was moving toward a new autocracy in Egypt, less than two years after the ouster of strongman Hosni Mubarak.

With a threatened strike by the nation’s judges, a plunge in the country’s stock market and more street protests looming, Morsi’s administration initially sent mixed messages Sunday over whether it was willing to consider a compromise: A spokesman for the president’s party insisted that there would be no change in his edict, but a statement from the party indicated for the first time a willingness to give political opponents “guarantees against monopolizing the fateful decisions of the homeland in the absence of the Parliament.”

Mekki, the influential leader of a judicial independent movement under Mubarak and one of Morsi’s closest aides, actively tried to broker a deal with top jurists to resolve the crisis.

The scale of the backlash against the decree appeared to catch Morsi’s government by surprise.

He faulted the president for failing to consult with his opponents before issuing it, but he also faulted the opponents for their own unwillingness to come to the table: “I blame all of Egypt, because they do not know how to talk to each other.”

Government and party officials maintained that Morsi was forced to claim the expansive new powers to protect the process of writing the country’s new constitution, and that the decree would be in effect only until the charter was in place.

A court of judges appointed under the Mubarak government was widely rumored to be about to dissolve the elected constitutional assembly, dominated by Morsi’s Islamist allies and the decree issued by Morsi on Thursday gave him the power to stop it.