With public pressure mounting, President Mohamed Morsi appeared to pull back Monday from his attempt to assert an authority beyond the reach of any court. His allies in the Muslim Brotherhood canceled plans for a large demonstration in his support, signaling a chance to calm an escalating battle that has paralyzed a divided nation.
Egyptians at a burned-out school in Cairo on Monday before the funeral of an activist who was injured in a clash and died Sunday.
After Mr. Morsi met for hours with the judges of Egypt's Supreme Judicial Council, his spokesman read an "explanation" on television that appeared to backtrack from a presidential decree placing Mr. Morsi's official edicts above judicial scrutiny -- even while saying the president had not actually changed a word of the statement.
Though details of the talks remained hazy, and it was not clear whether the opposition or the court would accept his position, Mr. Morsi's gesture was another demonstration that Egyptians would no longer allow their rulers to operate above the law. But there appeared little chance that the gesture alone would be enough to quell the crisis set off by his perceived power grab.
Protesters remained camped in Tahrir Square, and the opposition was moving ahead with plans for a major demonstration on Tuesday.
The presidential spokesman, Yasser Ali, said for the first time that Mr. Morsi had sought only to assert pre-existing powers already approved by the courts under previous precedents, not to free himself from judicial oversight.
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.
Mr. Morsi had maintained from the start that his purpose was to empower himself to prevent judges appointed by former President Hosni Mubarak from dissolving the constituent assembly, which is led by his fellow Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party. The courts have already dissolved the Islamist-led Parliament and an earlier constituent assembly, and the Supreme Constitutional Court was widely expected to rule against this one next week.
But the text of the original decree had exempted all presidential edicts from judicial review until the ratification of a constitution, not just those edicts related to the assembly or justified as "acts of sovereignty."
Legal experts said that the spokesman's explanations of the president's intentions, if put into effect, would amount to a revision of the decree Mr. Morsi issued last Thursday. But lawyers said that the verbal statements alone carried little legal weight.
Source: The New York Times | DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and MAYY EL SHEIKH