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Egyptian President Meets Judges To Defuse Tensions Over Controversial Decree

Egyptian President Meets Judges To Defuse Tensions Over Controversial Decree

Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi has held talks with the country's senior judges in an apparent effort to defuse the crisis triggered by his controversial constitutional decree that gave him sweeping powers, it was announced late on Monday.

Mursi's recent decree stated that all decisions, laws and declarations passed by the President, until a new Constitution is in place by mid-February, "are final and not subject to appeal" by any authority, including the judiciary.

The decree also stated that the Islamist-dominated panel engaged in drafting a new Constitution as well as the Upper House of the country's Parliament cannot be dissolved by any authority, including the judiciary.

According to presidential spokesman Yasser Ali, Mursi made it clear to members of the Supreme Judicial Council during a five-hour meeting on Monday that he would not withdraw the decree, but assured them that its scope would now be limited to "sovereign matters" designed to protect state institutions.

The judges had earlier questioned the clause in Mursi's decree that made his decisions immune to legal challenges. Also the Judges Club, which represents all of the country's judges, on Saturday called for widespread protests against the President.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Judicial Council later resisted rejecting the decree outright. It said the decree should apply only to "sovereign matters," and urged the judges who began a strike on Sunday to return to work.

Ali said the President had assured the Council that he had utmost respect for the judiciary. He added that the two parties confirmed during the talks that they had no desire for "conflict or difference between the judicial and presidential authorities."

Although the original decree ordered fresh investigations into crimes committed against protesters during last year's popular uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak as well as retrials of officials found guilty, Ali said the new investigations and trials would only occur "where new evidence appeared."

In addition, the decree sacked Prosecutor-General Abdel Maguid Mahmoud, and appointed Talaat Ibrahim as his replacement. Maguid was appointed to the post in July 2006 when Mubarak was in power. Incidentally, many in Egypt still consider Maguid to be a remnant of the Mubarak regime. But it is not clear whether his sacking still stands.

The latest development comes ahead of planned Opposition protests on Tuesday demanding total withdrawal of the so-called constitutional declaration. The Opposition insists that powers Mursi assumed himself with last week's declaration are much greater than those enjoyed by Mubarak before his ouster.

Pro-democracy activists and Opposition groups fear that Mursi's latest move may endanger the gains made by last year's popular uprising. Notably, Mursi's supporters have also staged rallies to demonstrate their continued backing for the Muslim Brotherhood leader. But the Brotherhood has called off its rally planned for Tuesday.

Notably, Egypt has witnessed violent protests ever since Mursi issued the controversial declaration last Thursday, with the President's opponents attacking and vandalizing offices of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood in several cities and towns.

At least 60 people have been injured in clashes between Opposition activists and riot police as well as members of the Brotherhood since the protests began. The lone fatality in the violence was a Brotherhood member who was killed on Sunday after the party's headquarters in the Nile Delta town of Damanhour was attacked by anti-Mursi protesters.

Mursi, leader of the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, was sworn in as Egypt's first civilian and freely-elected President on June 30, following the popular revolt that forced Mubarak to step down in February last year after handing over power to the country's military. Mubarak has since been convicted of complicity in the deaths of anti-government protesters and sentenced to life in prison.

by RTT Staff Writer

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