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Morsi's Moves to Limit Courts Examined

Aired November 26, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour. Tonight, Egypt remains in turmoil as President Mohammed Morsi sticks to his guns, putting himself above the law with last week's sweeping judicial decree.

It was more than 200 years ago that Napoleon declared, "The revolution is over; I am the revolution." Is this what's happening in Egypt today?


AMANPOUR (voice-over): On Wednesday, Morsi was an international hero after brokering a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas over Gaza. Then just a day later, he blindsided the world and his own country by issuing a sweeping declaration that gives him unprecedented power.


AMANPOUR: Morsi says it's temporary and that he did it to protect Egypt's democratic institutions. He says the court, dominated by Mubarak loyalists, could wipe out Egypt's revolutionary gains at any time, like dissolving the all-important committee that's writing Egypt's new constitution.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): The response to Morsi's maneuverings was quick and it was angry. Protesters took to the streets. Two people were killed. Judges called for a nationwide strike. And if money talks, then the Egyptian stock market showed its displeasure by plunging nearly 10 percent on Sunday and more than 7 percent today.


AMANPOUR: To all those watching anxiously in Egypt and around the world, this looks like their worst nightmare, an Islamist power grab from the very man who just before he was elected told me that he's committed to democracy, period.


MOHAMMED MORSI, PRESIDENT OF EGYPT (through translator): There is no such thing called an Islamic democracy. There is democracy only. And democracy is the instrument that is present now. The people are the source of authority. The social mindset is there are a people and the people chooses. That's democracy.


AMANPOUR: So is that democracy endangered? This is Egypt's most serious crisis since the revolution. How will it be resolved? I'll talk to an Egyptian judge and to one of President Morsi's staunchest defenders as we look at all sides of this issue.


MORSI: (Speaking Arabic).

AMANPOUR (voice-over): How did Egypt's first democratically-elected president suddenly become a pharaoh? He says he's protecting the revolution. But critics say he's endangering it.

And flames and fiery death in a garment factory; a cry for justice and workers' rights now and then, from Bangladesh to the sidewalks of New York.



AMANPOUR: We'll get to that later, but first, Mohamed Al Zind is a primary court judge in the Egyptian judicial system, and he's a member of the Judges' Club, an organization which has been strongly critical of President Morsi's degree.

Judge Al Zind, can you hear me OK? Thank you for joining me from Cairo.



Tell me something: there's meetings going on; there is an attempt to defuse this situation. What can you tell me about the effort to reach a compromise?

ZIND: Well, firstly, we have to declare that there's no compromise about our demand to withdraw all the constitutional decree, because it's considered the most vicious and unprecedented attack on the judicial authority independence in history.

AMANPOUR: Judge Zind, what is the status of the strikes that the Judges' Club have called for?

ZIND: Yes. We had no choice; we had no other choice but to suspend the -- the suspension of all the judicial procedures and about more than 90 percent of the judicial court, of the Egyptian courts, apart from the urgent cases, the (inaudible) cases, and stuff like that. And it's the only way. It's only -- the only way and the action to act against this decree.

AMANPOUR: Judge Zind, I can see that you're disturbed by the noise; I just want to explain to our viewers that this noise is demonstrations that are going on and spilling out of Tahrir Square. They are behind you there.

But let me continue. You, the judges, according to President Morsi, are potentially endangering the democratic achievements, the revolutionary achievements. They say that the court is still stacked with pro-Mubarak loyalists, that they still have shock from when the parliament was dissolved. They're concerned about the constitutional writing committee being dissolved.

Do you think that the judges have overplayed their hand, and that's what's brought the situation to this point?

ZIND: That's not right. That's not right. And there's no truth with that. He has to blame who made these laws. He has to blame who made this decree. It's not our responsibility that we judge and issue sentences by law. We don't think it's his obedience (ph). We see -- we are seeking applying the law. And that's it. So it's not our fault to be told the parliament, by deported (ph) law.

AMANPOUR: What about -- you say that the judiciary should be above the law. And yet we've seen judges take to the streets; there have been protests, obviously, of President Morsi's decree. But even judges calling for the fall of the regime, I mean, isn't that an overtly political move?

ZIND: That's not right, completely not right.

AMANPOUR: It might not be right, but it's what's happening.

ZIND: They are not protesting.

No, no, that's not the case. We're not protesting. We're not asking for the fall of the regime. We're deprived (ph) by law and constitution to practice political -- any political actions. We're just trying to defend our independence.

The suspension of the legal -- of the judiciary procedures and legal actions, it's the only way we have to defend our independence. You know that by the latest constitutional decree by President Morsi, he attacked (ph) the prosecutor general; he impugned (ph) all his actions and (inaudible) and excluded them from the judicial review. And that's a nightmare. We see this as a nightmare.

AMANPOUR: And how do you see it being resolved? I know you say he has to step right back from what he said, but is there a middle ground? Is there, for instance, a possibility, as some have suggested, that some of this sweeping decree can be walked back, but others not?

ZIND: Well, there's no compromise, as I told you, with all due respect at either the independence of the judicial authority and the independence, a real one, or there is no independence for the judicial authority. So we don't have nothing to negotiate about or to compromise about. That's the case. It's a principle.

AMANPOUR: Judge Mohamed al-Zind, thank you very much for joining me from Cairo.

Thanks for being there.

ZIND: Thank you so much.

AMANPOUR: And so the battle lines are clearly drawn. No compromise, says the judge.

When we return, how America views these latest moves with billions of dollars (inaudible) at stake. What would President Morsi's power play cost his country?

But with all of this talk of pharaohs, let's take a look at a real one: Tutankhamen. It might be the last time you see his royal tomb, which was unearthed 90 years ago this month by a British archeologist.

Changing temperatures and humidity are causing this ancient marvel to crumble. So an exact facsimile has been recreated. Read more about King Tut's new tomb at, and we'll get the other side of this story when we return from a break.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program, where we're trying to cover all sides of this ongoing crisis in Egypt. And we turn now to the impact that Mohammed Morsi's latest moves could have on relations between the United States and Egypt and, in fact, with the rest of the world.

Tamara Cofman Wittes is director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute, and she also served as deputy assistant secretary of state for the Middle East under President Obama.

Thank you so much for joining me, and you've been writing quite a lot about recent happenings in President Morsi's Egypt. You praised what he did in brokering the cease-fire. And now here we have this blindsiding, if you like.

What do you think is going to be the fallout between Egypt and the rest of the world?

TAMARA COFMAN WITTES, DIRECTOR, SABAN CENTER FOR MIDDLE EAST POLICY, BROOKINGS: I think we have yet to see how this plays out. It does seem to be an overreach by President Morsi. I think the real question is whether this indicates a fundamentally anti-democratic approach or whether it's a sort of misguided attempt to resolve a deadlock between Islamists and secularists in Egypt.

Obviously, if it's the former, that's going to be a big problem for the United States and other Western governments that are supporting a democratic transition.

But I think we have yet to see how Morsi's going to resolve this.

AMANPOUR: Well, you heard the judge at the beginning of our program, saying no compromise. He has to either walk the whole thing back or else, you know, there's battle stations.

But what do you think -- you say -- you said there was a problem that needed to be fixed, that he possibly overreached, or he did overreach. Give us an idea of the problems that he has faced with the whole democracy and revolutionary experiment that's going on there.

WITTES: The judiciary was playing a very difficult role and obstructing, in some ways, the progress of the transition road map that was laid out back in March of 2011. In March of 2011, the military council that was ruling Egypt said we'll have presidential elections. We'll have a constitutional commission, pass a new constitution and then the transition will be completed.

But the judiciary intervened, first by dissolving parliament and then by throwing into question the legitimacy of some of these other steps. And the challenge Morsi was facing is essentially the Islamists, including the party from which he emerged, the Muslim Brotherhood, were insisting on their own view in the constitutional drafting against the view of secular and liberal forces.

The liberals then were threatening essentially to take the whole process to the courts, get the constituent assembly thrown out and force them to start over. And so rather than trying to find a compromise between those two views, Morsi essentially said, no, the judiciary doesn't have that the right to do that. And until you guys figure things out, I'm in charge.

AMANPOUR: So what do you think should have been the process? Do you think there was a legitimate threat to the constitution? Or was there an Islamist potential power grab, as the rest of that world has feared for a long time? What should he have done?

WITTES: Look, there's no question that there is within the Muslim Brotherhood a certain majoritarian (sic) attitude. They say, look, we won the parliamentary elections; we won the presidency. We have the right to decide the future of Egypt, including the new constitution. But of course, democracy isn't just about majority rule.

It's also about compromise; it's about finding solutions that fit the diversity of society. And so what Morsi needs to do is be a political leader. He needs to step in and broker a compromise between these very polarized, divergent perspectives.

AMANPOUR: Do you -- ?


WITTES: Go ahead.

AMANPOUR: I'm sorry to interrupt you.

Do you think that what he's done now will jeopardize this desperately- needed, nearly $5 billion IMF loan, the U.S. aid that Egypt gets?

WITTES: He was trying to defuse a crisis. What he's done instead is provoke a bigger crisis. And unless he can find a solution that will put Egypt's transition back on a stable path, one that is more inclusive, more based on consensus, I think it's going to be very hard for Western governments to invest more resources in this country.

AMANPOUR: We know that President Obama spoke many times with President Morsi during the Israel-Hamas crisis and also Secretary of State Clinton went over there to Cairo.

What should they be telling the president now? Should they be telling him anything?

WITTES: Look, he played a very important leadership role in the region in brokering this cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. There, he was willing to play the mediator. I think the message from the United States today needs to be he needs to be a mediator in domestic politics as well.

He needs to separate himself from the Muslim Brotherhood, from his own party and be an honest broker between the sides, to find a compromise that will include all Egyptians in the process going forward.

AMANPOUR: Tamara Cofman Wittes, thank you so much for joining me from Washington.

WITTES: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And now, back to Cairo, to the Muslim Brotherhood's view of Mohammed Morsi's latest moves, let's turn to someone who knows the Egyptian president and what motivates very well indeed. He is Jihad Haddad, a frequent guest on this program.

He was a key adviser and strategist to Morsi during his campaign for president. And now he is a senior adviser still to the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party. He joins me live from Cairo.

Jihad, thank you very much for being with us.

Did you ever, in your wildest nightmares, think that this is going to be the result of the decision of your president? I mean, did he not think that this was going to happen? Or did he not care?

JIHAD HADDAD, MORSI POLITICAL ADVISER: Well, before we dive into it that fast, let me first state that your previous guest has been exceptionally misinformed about a lot of the analysis that she provided. So if you'd allow me, I'd like to put some --


AMANPOUR: Well, we'll get to a little bit of what -- of your point of view.

But first, I really want to know: did President Morsi that he could do this kind of decree and somehow it would be magically accepted and there wouldn't be these kinds of riots and disturbances?

HADDAD: Well, there are three things that make up the president's decisions. The first, is it legal, is it constitutional and, in this case, yes, to both.

The second, how the public perceives it; and in this case, an overwhelming majority supporting President Morsi in his decisions, as seen by private polls, media polls, Internet polls and government polls.

And the third, how does that form into establishing the promises that President Morsi gave in his campaign and, of course, when you talk about (inaudible) the way forward to have a constitution in Egypt, and to elect a parliament, this is exactly what he's promised.

It's surprising that when he acted on these promises, some opposition forces in Egypt felt he did not have the right to do so, although he is the elected president of Egypt.

AMANPOUR: Jihad Haddad, you can see, though -- you've spent a lot of time advising this president. You've spent a lot of time abroad. I mean, you can see how this looks, despite what you're saying. Do you think it was handled properly?

HADDAD: Thank you for that, because you've just said the magic word: how it looks. So let's look at the context of this. There's two parts to the declaration, one regarding the prosecutor general, the other regarding the immunity for the presidential decisions that have the power (ph) of law and the presidential declarations.

Primarily to safeguard them from the Mubarak-appointed constitutional courts. The reason he took these two is that as the president took office, he tried to do what your previous guest suggested. He tried to compromise.

He went through the prosecutor general. He tried to find a dignified way of promoting him out of office, out of respect for the independence of the judiciary, only to find the fact that the opposition backed the prosecutor general and stood up against President Morsi's decision.

Now at the end of the day, the president promised that transitional justice will happen, that those state security (ph) offices that killed the revolutionaries during the revolutions (inaudible) will have to face trial.

But the prosecutor general reigned in a series of acquittals and allowed protection to almost every corrupt official of Mubarak, including the highest ranking officer of the military and interior affairs. So he had to step in.

The second trial, when he tried to restore parliament and when he tried to do so, the constitutional court stepped in more than once, sabotaged the president's decision so that he wanted to create the institutional bodies that can call a democratic state.

At the end of the day, this a president that was elected to office with no constitution that can define his powers, no division of power; he later got his legislative powers because (inaudible) picture and there was no parliament in place.

How on Earth would that be a president out to grab more power when, in fact, he cemented the process that would create the institutions that would limit his power, define the constitution and have parliamentary election so that we can say that this is a democracy and institutions that can really govern properly?

AMANPOUR: All right. Let's just be clear. He does have executive power now and legislative power, and he's now given himself judicial power. So he's also been having talks with the judicial --

HADDAD: That's not correct. That's not correct, Christiane. He does not -- he did not give himself judicial power. He provided immunity for his presidential decisions --

AMANPOUR: OK, so he put himself above judicial power --

HADDAD: -- judicial pockets -- sorry?

AMANPOUR: Well, I'm characterizing it as how the world is looking at it. He put himself above the judiciary. But my real question is right now, there have been meetings all day between the president and members of the judicial council. They apparently have just ended.

Can you tell me whether they've reached a compromise?


Yes, the judicial council, the supreme judicial council of Egypt, the only representative body of the judges of Egypt, 12,000 judges, has just issued a statement in support of President Morsi's declaration and saying that what needed to be clarified in the initial declaration of President Morsi and was not apparent in all the statement is the fact that not all the presidential decisions and not the president himself are immune from judicial oversight or investigation or questioning.

But only the presidential decrees that have the power of law that can allow the state to continue functioning without interference from corrupt pockets of the judiciary itself and the presidential declarations issued by the presidential office, two from President Morsi and two from staff (ph) before him, that, in effect, are the acting constitution of the state.

We don't have an acting constitution. He's trying to cement the way forward and protect the entity that's creating the constitution so that -- and we can have what we can define as a state.

AMANPOUR: So that's a bit of news. You say there's a compromise reached.



HADDAD: It's not a compromise; it's a clarification.

AMANPOUR: Clarification -- does that mean he's still set on preventing the constitutional assembly from being dissolved? He can do that?



And --

HADDAD: Yes. The constitutional assembly is the second assembly. It has been said a lot that the Muslim Brotherhood controls this assembly. In reality, there are 100 primary members of this assembly. We have 36 members of the Freedom and Justice Party in it. And nor added to the Muslim Brotherhood are 41 members, hardly a majority by any cause.

All the withdrawals that happened thus far were primarily from the backup members. The primary members have reached 21 withdrawals only, still above the margin of a majority and a consensus to pass the constitution.

And even as we are speaking, not one, not a single member of those who announced their withdrawal in front of the camera has actually signed the documents to withdraw -- or a resignation.

So at the end of the day, this is rather -- largely a political muscling show. It's not about the content. These members that have withdrawn have said, many of them, numerously in private --


HADDAD: -- this is probably one of the best constitutionals that ever happened in Egypt.

But then again we can't allow this to happen under a Muslim Brotherhood president.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you why the Muslim Brotherhood has called off what it planned for tomorrow, which is a million-man march, a million- person march.

HADDAD: Let me tell you first why we actually called for it. The reason we called for it is because what the process that had been showed -- and most of the domestic international TV cameras were primarily of that of opposition forces and on the other side rampaging thugs attacking the various offices of both the Freedom and Justice Party and the Muslim Brotherhood.

So we felt that what is being portrayed is only the voice of the opposition, and the supporters have largely sat silent because the president asked them not to voice out their anger. So no confrontation can happen.

So the Muslim Brotherhood felt that the supporters of the decision have to have their say and their equal right of speech so that the representation can be fair. But because of the fact that there's danger in confrontation, although the process was moved away from Tahrir Square, there was still that danger looming in the air.

And in the interest of a more responsible decision, they withdraw and cancel the protest tomorrow; perhaps they can happen at a later date, where no confrontation can take place and there is minimal danger to public life.

AMANPOUR: Jihad Haddad, thank you very much indeed.

And we will be right back with a final thought after the break.


AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, as we wait and watch to see how the Egyptian crisis will be resolved, imagine a world where a real fire can spark dramatic change. The ashes are still smoldering in Bangladesh after fire swept through a garment factory this weekend, leaving over 100 people dead.

The cause was suspected to have been a short circuit. But the root cause is the exploitation of workers, most of them young women, working for pennies a day to stitch cheap clothes for giant retailers in the United States, in Britain and in France.

Now let's go back in time to March 25th, 1911.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): And another tragic fire, this one in New York City, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory housed about 500 workers, most of them immigrant teenage girls. When a fire break out, they rushed to the exits, only to find the doors had been locked, preventing them from leaving early; 146 people were killed.

And as with Bangladesh, many leapt to their deaths on the sidewalk below. The fire sparked a national outcry, galvanized the labor movement and transformed worker safety with legislation that is still in place today. That outcry and a need for workers' rights is being heard again on the streets of Bangladesh.

And that's it for tonight's program. Thanks for watching. Goodbye from New York.