Anti-Mursi protesters run from tear gas released by police
during clashes in front of the Supreme Judicial Council in
Cairo. Photo by Reuters.
Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi faced a rebellion from
judges who have accused him of expanding his powers at their
expense, deepening a crisis that has triggered violence in the
street and exposed the country's deep divisions.
The Judges' Club, a body representing judges across Egypt,
called for a strike during a meeting interrupted with chants
demanding the "downfall of the regime" - the rallying cry in
the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year.
Mursi's political opponents and supporters, representing the
divide between newly empowered Islamists and their critics,
called for rival demonstrations on Tuesday over a decree that
has triggered concern in the West.
Issued late on Thursday (local time), it marks an effort by
Mursi to consolidate his influence after he successfully
sidelined Mubarak-era generals in August. The decree defends
from judicial review decisions taken by Mursi until a new
parliament is elected in a vote expected early next year.
It also shields the Islamist-dominated assembly writing
Egypt's new constitution from a raft of legal challenges that
have threatened the body with dissolution, and offers the
same protection to the Islamist-controlled upper house of
Egypt's highest judicial authority, the Supreme Judicial
Council, said the decree was an "unprecedented attack" on the
independence of the judiciary. The Judges' Club, meeting in
Cairo, called on Mursi to rescind it.
That demand was echoed by prominent opposition leader Mohamed
"There is no room for dialogue when a dictator imposes the
most oppressive, abhorrent measures and then says 'let us
split the difference'," he said.
"I am waiting to see, I hope soon, a very strong statement of
condemnation by the U.S., by Europe and by everybody who
really cares about human dignity," he said in an interview
with Reuters and the Associated Press.
More than 300 people were injured on Friday as protests
against the decree turned violent. There were attacks on at
least three offices belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, the
movement that propelled Mursi to power.
Liberal, leftist and socialist parties called a big protest
for Tuesday to force Mursi to row back on a move they say has
exposed the autocratic impulses of a man once jailed by
In a sign of the polarisation in the country, the Muslim
Brotherhood called its own protests that day to support the
Mursi also assigned himself new authority to sack the
prosecutor general, who was appointed during the Mubarak era,
and appoint a new one. The dismissed prosecutor general,
Abdel Maguid Mahmoud, was given a hero's welcome at the
In open defiance of Mursi, Ahmed al-Zind, head of the club,
introduced Mahmoud by his old title.
The Mursi administration has defended the decree on the
grounds that it aims to speed up a protracted transition from
Mubarak's rule to a new system of democratic government.
Analysts say it reflects the Brotherhood's suspicion towards
sections of a judiciary unreformed from Mubarak's days.
"It aims to sideline Mursi's enemies in the judiciary and
ultimately to impose and head off any legal challenges to the
constitution," said Elijah Zarwan, a fellow with The European
Council on Foreign Relations.
"We are in a situation now where both sides are escalating
and its getting harder and harder to see how either side can
gracefully climb down."
ADVISOR TO MURSI QUITS
Following a day of violence in Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said
and Suez, the smell of tear gas hung over the capital's
Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the uprising that toppled
Mubarak in 2011 and the stage for more protests on Friday.
Youths clashed sporadically with police near the square,
where activists camped out for a second day on Saturday,
setting up makeshift barricades to keep out traffic.
Al-Masry Al-Youm, one of Egypt's most widely read dailies,
hailed Friday's protest as "The November 23 Intifada",
invoking the Arabic word for uprising.
But the ultra-orthodox Salafi Islamist groups that have been
pushing for tighter application of Islamic law in the new
constitution have rallied behind Mursi's decree.
The Nour Party, one such group, stated its support for the
Mursi decree. Al-Gama'a al-Islamiya, which carried arms
against the state in the 1990s, said it would save the
revolution from what it described as remnants of the Mubarak
Samir Morkos, a Christian assistant to Mursi, had told the
president he wanted to resign, said Yasser Ali, Mursi's
spokesman. Speaking to the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat
newspaper, Morkos said: "I refuse to continue in the shadow
of republican decisions that obstruct the democratic
Mursi's decree has been criticised by Western states that
earlier this week were full of praise for his role in
mediating an end to the eight-day war between Israel and
"The decisions and declarations announced on November 22
raise concerns for many Egyptians and for the international
community," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland
The European Union urged Mursi to respect the democratic