Protesters rally after Morsi expands powers

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CAIRO — Tens of thousands of demonstrators rallied in Cairo and other cities today against a decree by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi that placed his decisions above judicial review.

Morsi stipulated that any decrees issued by him since taking office and preceding the adoption of a new constitution and the election of a new parliament are not open to appeal and can’t be reversed.

New elections are slated to be held after the constitution is finished and approved in a referendum.

Crowds gathered in Tahrir Square, the center of last year’s uprising against Hosni Mubarak, to protest what they see as the growing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi’s assumption of more powers.

Clashes broke out near the Interior Ministry between activists and police for a fifth day, and the Health Ministry reported 16 people injured, according to Al Jazeera.

The offices of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, headed by Morsi before his election, were torched in Alexandria and other cities, Al Jazeera said.

Demonstrators chanted “the people want the regime down,” an echo of anti-Mubarak protests, and held banners that said “Morsi is the new Pharaoh” and “No to a new dictator.”

Their demands include the dismissal of Morsi’s Cabinet, an overhaul of the police and the prosecution of officers responsible for killing and injuring protesters last year.

Morsi Thursday ordered the retrial of Mubarak-era officials, fired the prosecutor-general and blocked legal challenges to the assembly writing a new constitution, which secular and Christian groups have said is dominated by Islamists.

The move came after he was hailed by President Barack Obama and other leaders for his role in negotiating a truce between Hamas and Israel.

Morsi is also struggling to revive an economy battered by last year’s uprising`. Egypt’s benchmark stock index fell 3.9 percent this week, the biggest decline since June.

New elections are slated to be held after the constitution is finished and approved in a referendum.

In a speech shown live on Al Jazeera today, Morsi said the aim of his measures was social and political stability. He acknowledged that not all the goals of the revolution have been achieved, a complaint made by youth activist groups.

The groups charge Morsi with failing to bring to justice those responsible for killing protesters last year. Twenty-five people were acquitted on charges related to the deaths last month.

By ordering retrials, Morsi is seeking “to rob the protesters of the card that there have been no punishments meted out,” Ashraf el-Sherif, adjunct lecturer in political science at the American University in Cairo, said by phone. He “wants the social unrest on the street to end.”

Morsi fired Prosecutor-General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, who had served under Mubarak, after attempting to remove him last month. Talaat Ibrahim was appointed public prosecutor for four years, presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said Thursday.

The president decreed that no judicial body can disband the 100-member assembly writing the constitution, and extended its mandate by two months. Ayman Nour, an opposition politician, told Al Jazeera television he was leaving the committee after the announcement.

The committee has faced legal challenges and been criticized by secular groups that say it is forcing through articles that curtail freedoms and don’t represent the country’s religious minorities.

“Morsi today usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh,” Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, who played a key role in last year’s uprising, said on his Twitter account. “A major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences.”

The United Nations human rights commission said it’s “very concerned about the possible huge ramifications of this declaration for human rights and the rule of law,” according to a statement from the office of the high commissioner, Navi Pillay.

Opposition leaders including ElBaradei, former Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi issued a statement late Thursday calling for protests against the decrees.

The moves mark the latest push by the Islamist president to wrest power away from a judiciary that the Brotherhood has argued is biased against him. The group supports Morsi’s decisions and anyone who objects to them is “selling the blood of the martyrs,” Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan said, according to the state-run Middle East News Agency.

The judiciary criticized the move. “It’s frightening,” Judge Yussuf Auf said by phone. “This decree is a disaster on many levels because it undermines judicial principles that have been in place for decades. This will lead to an intense clash between the judiciary and the presidency unlike any we’ve seen in the past.”

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