Egypt’s top judicial body has accused President Mohammed Morsi of "an unprecedented attack" on the courts, with a constitutional decree to limit their powers. In Cairo, police clashed with protesters.
The Supreme Judicial Council on Saturday condemned the new constitutional declaration and demanded that powers of constitutional oversight be restored to the courts.
After an emergency meeting, the body expressed concern over Morsi's decision to replace the country's chief prosecutor and make presidential decrees immune to judicial review.
"The new declaration is an unprecedented attack on the judiciary's rulings and independence," a statement from the assembly said.
The council, responsible for the administration of the court system and the appointment of judges, urged Morsi to remove "anything that touches the judiciary" from the declaration.
Morsi's temporary charter effectively allows him to issue any law or decree "to protect the revolution" that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year unchallenged. Supporters of the president have accused the courts of obstructing work to reform the constitution.
Morsi also bowed to a demand by protesters for the sacking of the prosecutor general, Abdel Meguid Mahmud. Mahmud has been blamed for acquittal of senior state officials on charges of orchestrating violence against demonstrators before Mubarak was ousted.
Strike by judiciary
As the council made its statement, the Judges Club of Alexandria announced a strike to protest against the changes.
The group announced "the suspension of work in all courts and prosecution administrations in the provinces of Alexandria and Beheira... until the end of the crisis caused by this declaration,"
The judges would "accept nothing less than the cancellation of [Morsi's decree]," said Club chief Mohammed Ezzat al-Agwa, claiming that the president had violated the principle of separation of powers.
In Cairo on Saturday, police fired tear gas at opponents of the presidential decree who were gathering for a planned one-week sit-in at the city's Tahrir Square. A core of activists had camped in the square overnight, with the police action coming as new demonstrators attempted to join them. By Saturday evening, some 30 tents could still be seen, with protests gathered around them.
Opposition speaks out
High-profile opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei also said on Saturday that no dialogue with Morsi could be possible until the president rescinded the "dictatorial" decree, which, he said, gave Morsi the powers of a pharaoh.
"There is no room for dialogue when a dictator imposes the most oppressive, abhorrent measures and then says 'let us split the difference'," ElBaradei told Reuters and Associated Press following talks with other members of the opposition.
"I am waiting to see, I hope soon, a very strong statement of condemnation by the US, by Europe and by everybody who really cares about human dignity," he added.
Meanwhile, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood urged supporters of the president to show their approval for his decisions in a mass demonstration on Tuesday.
rc/sej (AFP, dpa, Reuters)