Violent protests have rocked Egypt since Thursday when President Mohammed Morsi issued controversial decrees that granted the leader far reaching new powers.
Clashes between supporters of Morsi's Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, opposition parties and police have been reported across the country since Friday, resulting in some 500 injuries. The first death in the unrest was reported on Sunday, when a 15-year-old boy was killed and 40 others were wounded as anti-Morsi protesters tried to storm the political offices of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party in Damanhoor.
Amid the ongoing clashes, the Egyptian stock market index reportedly dropped 9.59 percentage points on Sunday, the first day of trading since the edicts were announced. The steep drop was among the biggest since the uncertainty surrounding the toppling of former autocrat Hosni Mubarak early last year.
There are signs, however, that Morsi may seek a compromise to ease tensions with his opponents. In a statement issued on Sunday evening, his office said the decrees were necessary for a proper transition to democracy and stressed that they would not be permanent. "The presidency reiterates the temporary nature of the said measures, which are not meant to concentrate powers," it said.
'This Is a Catastrophe'
Morsi, who came to power in the country's first democratic elections this summer, is also scheduled to meet with senior judges on Monday to calm their fears about giving himself immunity from judicial review until a new parliament is elected, a move that had prompted many judges and prosecutors to boycott courts around the country. But the country's top judicial body, the Supreme Judiciary Council, asked them to return to work on Monday, saying it would try to convince Morsi to limit his immunity to "sovereign matters" like declaring war. The courts, which already dissolved the elected lower house of parliament, had also reportedly been considering doing the same to the heavily Islamist assembly currently writing Egypt's new constitution -- a situation that justified Morsi's move, his supporters say.
Opposition leaders, including prominent Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei, have refused to cooperate with Morsi until the edicts have been scrapped. "He grabbed full power for himself," he told SPIEGEL in an interview published on Monday. "Not even the pharaohs had so much authority, to say nothing of his predecessor Hosni Mubarak. This is a catastrophe -- it a mockery of the revolution that brought him to power and an act that leads one to fear the worst." Fractious opposition groups are also reportedly attempting to band together to increase resistance to Morsi's edicts, widely seen as an unprecedented power grab.
The move came directly after Morsi was praised for helping to broker a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas, ending eight days of violence in the Gaza Strip. German commentators on Monday say that Morsi has used that momentum to sieze greater powers, which could endanger Egypt's transition to democracy.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"A freely elected politician is removing the institutions of the state and thus the control mechanisms of democracy -- the parliament, the justice system and independent media.... The media has long been under attack. And Morsi's decree … now combines executive, legislative and judicial powers in one set of hands -- his. Not even his toppled predecessor Hosni Mubarak had such an abundance of power."
"The reason for Morsi's clumsily handled grab for complete power is obvious. The new Islamization of Egypt, the pet project of the Muslim Brotherhood, has arrived. … The mistakes of the revolution are taking their toll: the divided opponents of the Islamists, time pressure, vague guidelines for the new constitution, and the lack of police reform. And then there is the good faith in the fundamentalists who have kidnapped the revolution and are now working to build a Sharia state."
Left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:
"When it comes to relations between the United States and Egypt, it seems everything has remained the same. The Egyptian government is committed to representing the interests of the West in the region. It is mediating between Israel and the Palestinians, and attempting to find a solution to the conflict in Syria. The goal is stability. President Morsi has proven that he can and wants to fulfill this role. For this he is praised by Washington and Europe. And they are overlooking the fact that on a domestic level he continues to deviate from his promise to lead Egypt to democracy."
"Many Egyptians fear that Egypt is now headed directly into a new dictatorship. They feel let down because the West is allowing Morsi's power grabbing at home to go on because their interests are being met. It was no different under Hosni Mubarak's government."
Conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"That Morsi has chosen exactly the moment in which he is being praised internationally for his role as mediator in the Gaza conflict to grant himself new powers shows just what a cold power-monger he is, regardless of how he might try to justify his behavior in the face of the angry protests against it. It should be noted that the rebellion against autocrats and dictators from Tunis to Cairo has not created a wonderland for Arab democracy. That can't happen overnight. The process of restructuring is complicated and is not immune to setbacks. But it would be bitter if it led to single-party rule for the Islamists."
Financial daily Handelsblatt writes:
"There is cause for concern about the democratic process along the Nile. … But Egypt is not Iran. While Morsi wants to expand the dominance of the Islamists, opposition groups have found unprecedented unity. The protests against Morsi becoming a 'new Pharaoh' and against the Islamization of society have brought them together. In the battle for Egypt's future, everything is at stake. The outcome remains uncertain. But at least there is hope that given the poor economy and lack of economic output under the governing Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptians will reconsider and avoid blindly following Morsi."
"The Arab Spring certainly has not cooled into an Islamist winter, though this danger has by no means been eliminated. But it was naive to think from the beginning that after a successful revolution against the dictators in the Arab world that market economy-oriented and liberal democracies would emerge right away."
"The people in Tahrir Square must fight for this. And the West should finally ask itself how it can actively help without being patronizing."