Egyptian demonstrators rallied in Cairo against a decree by President Mohamed Mursi that placed his decisions above the law.
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 Mursi's assumption of more powers. Clashes broke out near the Interior Ministry between activists and police for a fifth day. A coalition of political parties and civil society groups said they will join the protest, and similar ones are scheduled in other cities.
Demonstrators chanted "the people want the regime down," an echo of anti-Mubarak protests, and held banners that said "Mursi is the new Pharaoh" and "No to a new dictator." Their demands include the dismissal of Mursi's Cabinet, an overhaul of the police and the prosecution of officers responsible for killing and injuring protesters last year.
Mursi yesterday decreed that his decisions are above judicial review. He 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. Mursi is also struggling to revive an economy battered by last year's uprising, which caused tourists and investors to flee. Egypt's benchmark stock index fell 3.9 percent this week, the biggest decline since June.
Aims of Revolution
Protesters include youth groups that say Mursi and his government haven't fulfilled the aims of the revolution against Mubarak or brought to justice those responsible for killing protesters. Twenty-five people were acquitted on charges related to the deaths last month.
By ordering retrials, Mursi 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."
Mursi 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 yesterday.
The president, drawn from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, 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.
"Mursi 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."
Opposition leaders including ElBaradei, former Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi issued a statement late yesterday calling for protests against the decrees.
'Blood of Martyrs'
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 Mursi'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."
Mursi also 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.
The decisions don't mean the return of the former Islamist- dominated parliament, which Mursi tried to reinstate after it was disbanded by the country's then-ruling generals in line with a court ruling, Ali told Al Jazeera late yesterday.