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Egyptian Judges Condemn 'Unprecedented Attack' By President

Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi (center) waves after speaking to supporters in front of the presidential palace in Cairo on November 23.
Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi (center) waves after speaking to supporters in front of the presidential palace in Cairo on November 23.
By RFE/RL
Defiant Egyptian judges have called for "the suspension of work in all courts and prosecution administrations" in protest against a decree granting President Muhammad Morsi extensive new powers.

Egypt's Judges Club, a body that represents judges throughout the country, made the call on November 24 after hours of talks in response to what they called Morsi's "ferocious attack on Egyptian justice."

"We insist that this [decree] is withdrawn," said Judge Khalid Mahgoub after the group's meeting in Cairo. "We insist on appealing against the decision to cancel it so we can return to a state of law. We will not allow anyone to play with state institutions."

Earlier on November 24, Egypt's highest judicial authority, the Supreme Judicial Council, called Morsi's move "an unprecedented attack on the independence of the judiciary."

The Judges Club of Egypt's second city, Alexandria, announced a strike in the provinces of Alexandria and Beheira, saying Morsi's decree violates the principle of separation of powers.

But state television reported that another group, Judges for the Sake of Egypt, has backed the decree.

Meanwhile, opposition figures meeting in Cairo said there could be no dialogue with Morsi until he rescinded the presidential order.

The decree issued by Morsi on November 22 bars any court from dissolving the constituent assembly, which is preparing a new constitution.

It also bans any legal challenges to the president's decisions and new laws until a new parliament is elected.

Morsi also sacked his prosecutor-general and gave himself the power to appoint a new one.

Rallies Held Across Egypt

The president and his supporters say he is acting to protect last year's revolution from being undermined by loyalists of former ruler Hosni Mubarak.

"The revolution has passed but will not stop," Morsi told a crowd of supporters in Cairo on November 23. "The judiciary is a respected institution along with its loyal members, but those who wish to hide within the institution then I will be watching them."

But the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations have expressed concerns about the power grab.

Speaking to journalists on November 24, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called on Morsi to act responsibly:

"We observe the developments in Egypt with great worries," he said. "We are anxious that the process toward democracy and the rule of law and the separation of power will continue. At the same time we share the worries of the people of Egypt and the international community regarding the recent internal developments in Egypt. It is very important that the ideals of the revolution will not be lost in those times of change."

Since the decree was issued, both critics and supporters of the Egyptian president have staged rallies throughout the country.

Tens of thousands of people protested the decree across Egypt on November 23, accusing Morsi of seizing dictatorial powers.

In Cairo, police fired tear gas to break up throngs of protesters near Tahrir Square. Violent protests were also reported in Port Said, Suez, and the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, where protesters attacked offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization from which the president hails.

Both the opposition and the Muslim Brotherhood have called for mass rallies on November 27.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

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