Egypt's Morsy to meet with top judicial body days after claiming new powers

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Story highlights

  • President Morsy will meet with Egypt's Supreme Judicial Council, state news reports
  • The council has called Morsy's decree "an unprecedented attack" on its independence
  • Demonstrators in Tahrir Square say they won't leave until Morsy rescinds his decisions
  • The president says the measures are temporary, "not meant to concentrate powers"

President Mohamed Morsy will meet Monday with members of Egypt's highest judicial body, which has slammed his recent decree slashing judges' authority as an "unprecedented attack," state news reports.

The Supreme Judicial Council has criticized the edict from Morsy, issued last Thursday, that among other things stated courts cannot overturn any decision or law he has issued since taking office in June or over the next six months, until a new constitution is finalized.

Morsy's office said Sunday that his decree is aimed at "preserving the impartiality of the judiciary ... to avoid politicizing it."

Some judges have voiced support for the move. For example, the nongovernmental group Judges for Egypt has denounced calls for a strike, according to state-run Nile TV.

But another judicial group, the general assembly of the Egypt Judges Club, has called for just such a nationwide strike in all courts and prosecution offices, according to state TV. Judges in Alexandria and Damanhour already have said they are putting court hearings on hold until further notice.

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And the Supreme Judicial Council, which oversees all matters related to the judiciary and judges, expressed its "dismay" last Saturday over Morsy's decision, according to the state news agency MENA.

Top Egyptian judicial body rips Morsy

    "(The council) is calling on the president of the republic to distance himself from all matters related to the judicial branch and its agencies," the MENA report said.

    Morsy's office explained that last week's edict, which included firing Egypt's prosecutor general, was "deemed necessary in order to hold accountable those responsible for the corruption as well as other crimes during the previous regime and the transitional period."

    Yet these explanations, as well as claims by the president that his new powers are only "temporary," have done little to quell the furor of those who now call Morsy a dictator.

    One of his advisers, Farouk Guweida, resigned in objection to the decree, presidential adviser Esam El Erian said Sunday. Two days earlier, another presidential adviser -- Samir Morcos, a Coptic Christian -- also quit, state media reported.

    "There is no room for compromise. If he wants a dialogue, he has to rescind these measures," said Mohammed ElBaradei, a Nobel laureate and head of Egypt's Constitution Party, who ran against Morsy for president.

    Discord is rife in Egypt as thousands have taken to the streets in recent days to decry what they call an undemocratic power grab by Morsy, who is the North African nation's first president since longtime leader Hosni Mubarak was ousted amid a popular uprising.

    The Muslim Brotherhood, which has become Egypt's leading political force after being banned under Mubarak, has rallied in support of its former leader, as have many allied conservatives.

    "The president's ... recent constitutional declaration fulfill(s) many revolutionary goals demanded by all political, social and popular groups that participated in the January 25 revolution -- for freedom, dignity and social justice," the group's Freedom and Justice Party said in a statement.

    Edict divides Egypt but unifies opponents, critics and observers say

    Tarek El-Sehari, a Salafist and deputy chairman of Egypt's upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, called the decree a necessity since Mubarak-appointed judges and prosecutors haven't adequately punished members of the former regime, have protected groups like those drafting the constitution and "have indulged in thuggery and hooliganism," state-run Ahram Online reported Sunday.

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    Yet even within the Freedom and Justice Party for Morsy, there are dissenters. Ahmed Fahmi, the Shura Council chairman who is related to Morsy, late last week criticized the decision. He said it should have been decided in a national referendum and said it "severely divided the nation into Islamists and civilians," according to the same report.

    Late last week, protesters overran the Alexandria base of the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing and set it on fire, said Ahmed Sobea, a spokesman for the Freedom and Justice Party.

    And overnight Saturday, others tried to attack the group's offices in the northern city of Damanhour, Egypt's Interior Ministry said Sunday. Injuries were reported as the movement's supporters fought back, the ministry said.

    iReport: Violent clashes erupt in Tahrir Square

    A 15-year-old member of Muslim Brotherhood's youth arm died after being hit on the head with a club yielded by one of dozens of men who attacked the office, said Sobea, the party spokesman.

    In addition to Damanhour and Alexandria, party offices in Mansoura, Suez and Cairo have been "damaged and ransacked" in recent days, said Sobea. The Freedom and Justice party holds "the Interior Ministry accountable" for the teen's death and generally for failing to do more to protect its offices, the spokesman added.

    There have been many other cases of protesters clashing with security forces, including some Sunday in Cairo, state-run Nile TV reported.

    Since Thursday, at least 261 people have been injured in clashes in the Egyptian capital and elsewhere, according to EGYNews, which cited the Health Ministry but didn't break down who was hurt.

    Interior Ministry spokesman Alaa Mahmoud said 128 police officers have been injured in clashes nationwide.

    Egypt's Morsy: 'Imperial' president or step forward for revolution?

    Meanwhile, thousands of other demonstrators have expressed their views without violence -- including by vowing to occupy Cairo's Tahrir Square, as was the case leading up to Mubarak's exit, until Morsy reverses course. By Monday morning, the landmark roundabout was filled, the number of white tents and demonstrators rising steadily over recent days.

    "Mubarak, with all his arrogance and dictatorial tendencies, never gave himself the power that no one can appeal his decisions," protester Mohamed Abdul Wahab said, blasting Morsy for giving himself "the powers of a new pharaoh."

    The two sides are even dueling when it comes to protests. The Muslim Brotherhood has announced a "million man" demonstration in support of Morsy at Cairo's Abdeen Square on Tuesday, the same day the opposition is planning a major protest.

    The division has already taken its toll on Egypt's economy, with the country's stock market closing almost 10% lower Sunday at the end of the trading day, the market's first since Morsy's power consolidation.

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