Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi seemed to pull back Monday from his attempt to claim authority unchecked by the courts, but his critics were not appeased.
Protesters remained camped in Tahrir Square, and the opposition was moving ahead with plans for a major demonstration on Tuesday, the New York Times reported.
Morsi’s allies in the Muslim Brotherhood canceled plans for a large demonstration in his support, signaling a chance to calm the situation.
After Morsi met for hours with the judges of the Supreme Judicial Council, his spokesman read an “explanation” on television that appeared to backtrack from a presidential decree placing Morsi’s official edicts above judicial scrutiny — even while maintaining that the president had not actually changed a word of the statement.
The presidential spokesman, Yasser Ali, said for the first time that Morsi had sought only to assert pre-existing powers already approved by the courts under previous precedents, not to free himself from judicial oversight, the Times reported.
Continue Reading Below
He said that the president meant all along to follow an established Egyptian legal doctrine suspending judicial scrutiny of presidential “acts of sovereignty” that work “to protect the main institutions of the state.” The judicial council had said Sunday that it could bless aspects of the decree deemed to qualify under the doctrine.
"The president said he had the utmost respect for the judicial authority and its members," Ali told reporters in announcing the agreement.
After reading out the statement outlining what was agreed with judges, Ali told Reuters: "The statement I read is an indication that the issue is resolved."
The judges did not agree.
“Our meeting with the president has failed to contain the crisis," Abdelrahman Bahloul, a member of the judicial council, told the newspaper Al Masry al Youm. "The statement issued by the presidency is frail and does not represent the members of the council."
The Judges Club, a separate legal organization, also was not satisfied that Morsi had scaled back enough of his authority. It called on its members to continue a partial strike in Alexandria and other cities. Ziad Akl, a political analyst, told the Los Angeles Times that Morsi's negotiations with the judges were a move to show the public he's not a dictator, "but, in reality, his declaration has not changed."
Protesters camped out in Tahrir Square since Friday to demand that the decree be scrapped said the president had not done enough. "We reject the constitutional declaration (decree) and it must be completely canceled," Sherif Qotb, 37, protesting amongst tents erected in the square, told Reuters.
Mona Amer, spokesman for the opposition movement Popular Current, said Tuesday's protest would go on. "We asked for the cancellation of the decree and that did not happen," she said.
Before the president's announcement, leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahy said protests would continue until the decree was scrapped and said Tahrir would be a model of an "Egypt that will not accept a new dictator because it brought down the old one."
As Morsi and the judges met Monday, mourners turned out to bury two boys from opposite sides who were killed in recent clashes: a 16-year-old antigovernment protester reportedly shot with a rubber bullet near Tahrir Square and a 15-year-old struck by a stone when a crowd attacked an office of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party in the Nile Delta.
"The presidency mourns two of the nation's finest young men," Morsi said in a statement.
A court will next week examine the legality of the decree, an official said.