CAIRO After days of protests, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi announced Monday that a sweeping decree issued last week that exempted his decisions from challenges in court will remain in effect on issues pertaining to "sovereign matters," a result that some were calling a compromise but that appeared to be a sweeping victory for the Islamist president.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the group through which Morsi gained prominence before his election to the presidency this summer, canceled demonstrations scheduled for today to support the president's decree, which had been assailed by secular political leaders and judges alike as giving Morsi dictatorial powers. However, massive anti-Morsi protests are scheduled today.
There was no immediate comment from Egypt's Supreme Judicial Council, which met with Morsi earlier in the day. The decree's continuation was announced on national television late Monday by Morsi's spokesman, Yasser Ali, who cast it as an agreement between the two sides.
Among the decree's aspects that will remain in effect is the reopening of investigations into a range of crimes committed against demonstrators during the final days of the regime of toppled President Hosni Mubarak if "ample evidence" exists that former officials have been allowed to go free unjustly.
The term "sovereign matters" wasn't defined, leaving open the possibility of continued debate. But that seemed a remote possibility given that the term could apply to nearly any action the president might take, particularly in regard to the writing of the country's new constitution.
"The president and the Supreme Judicial Council confirmed their desire for no conflict or difference between the judicial and presidential authorities," Ali said in announcing the continuation of the decree.
Despite the agreement, many in Cairo said that public feuds like this one, in which thousands protested Morsi's latest power grab, would define Egypt for the immediate future.
Ahmed Maher, a founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, a leading force in the uprising, is among those who wanted to see tweaks in the latest decree. "From the first day he was president, we said we wouldn't leave. And he himself said, 'If I do something wrong, correct me,' " Maher said. "We represent a great segment of Egyptians."
One key issue left unresolved by the agreement announced Monday is likely to roil Egyptian politics for some time: How much accountability does a democratically elected president owe his constituents?
Where protests of the past days demanded that Morsi answer to the courts and explain his decisions to the public, his supporters believe that Morsi is accountable to the voters only when he faces re-election. What happens between elections held every four years is up to Morsi.
Even Morsi's advisers are divided. According to state television, two of them, including a leading Christian, resigned to protest Morsi's decree, saying he did not consult with them before giving himself new powers, though the president has not accepted their resignations.
The judiciary called the moves unprecedented. Even Morsi's justice minister struggled to defend them.
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Egypt's foreign minister, Mohammed Kamel Amr, with whom she stood days earlier as they announced a cease-fire in Gaza, to question the decree.
But Morsi could count on Mohamed Fahmy, 23, a communications student who fumed as he watched thousands of anti-Morsi protesters in Tahrir Square. He said he was outraged at Egyptians who tried to thwart Morsi's efforts to govern. "Those people want a president every day. They need someone like (ousted Egyptian President Hosni) Mubarak. Those people need a whip," Fahmy said. "We should give him a chance."
Opponents say Morsi's decree was issued to ensure that the courts could not dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated constitutional assembly and the Shura Council, the upper house of Parliament.
If those were his goals, then the agreement with the judges was definitely a Morsi victory.
Under the agreement, no court may dissolve the constituent assembly or Parliament's upper house, according to Ali's announcement.
The agreement also said that none of Morsi's executive orders issued since June 30, 2012, can be abrogated by the courts.