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Egypt’s Morsi grants himself far-reaching powers

Demonstrators rallied to support Mohammed Morsi’s decision to fire Egypt’s top prosecutor, a Mubarak-era appointee.

Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

Demonstrators rallied to support Mohammed Morsi’s decision to fire Egypt’s top prosecutor, a Mubarak-era appointee.

CAIRO — Egypt’s Islamist president unilaterally decreed greater authority for himself Thursday and effectively neutralized a judicial system that had emerged as a key opponent by declaring courts are barred from challenging his decisions.

Riding high on US and international praise for mediating a Gaza cease-fire, Mohammed Morsi put himself above oversight and gave protection to the Islamist-led assembly that is writing a new constitution from a looming threat of dissolution by court order.

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But the move is likely to fuel growing public anger that he and his Muslim Brotherhood are seizing too much power.

In what was interpreted by rights activists as a de facto declaration of emergency law, one of Morsi’s decrees gave him the power to take ‘‘due measures and steps’’ to deal with any ‘‘threat’’ to the revolution, national unity and safety, or anything that obstructs the work of state institutions.

Morsi framed his decisions as necessary to protect the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago and to cement the nation’s transition to democratic rule. Many activists, including opponents of the Brotherhood, criticize the judiciary as packed with judges and prosecutors sympathetic to Mubarak. Brotherhood supporters accuse the courts of trying to block their agenda.

‘‘He had to act to save the country and protect the course of the revolution,’’ a Morsi aide, Pakinam al-Sharqawi, said on Al-Jazeera. ‘‘It is a major stage in the process of completing the January 25th revolution.’’

Morsi also ordered the retrial of Mubarak and top aides on charges of killing protesters during the uprising. And he created a new ‘‘protection of the revolution’’ judicial body to swiftly carry out the prosecutions. But he did not order retrials for lower-level police acquitted of such killings, another widespread popular demand; if carried out, that would disillusion the security forces.

Liberal politicians criticized the decrees as dictatorial and destined to divide a nation reeling from months of turmoil following Mubarak’s ouster. Some said they exceeded the powers once enjoyed by Mubarak.

Mohamed ElBaradei, a pro-reform leader, addressed a news conference flanked by other prominent politicians from outside the Brotherhood, including two candidates who ran against Morsi, Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi.

They pledged to cooperate to force Morsi to rescind his assumption of greater powers.

‘‘We will work together as Egyptians until we achieve the goals of our revolution,’’ said ElBaradei, former director of the United Nation’s nuclear agency and a Nobel peace laureate.

They called for mass protests on Friday.

Thousands from the rival camps were on the streets of Cairo late Thursday.

Brotherhood supporters massed outside the Supreme Court and offices of the prosecutor general, whom Morsi removed in Thursday’s edict. They chanted slogans for ‘‘the cleansing of the judiciary,’’ shouting, ‘‘The people support the president’s decisions.’’

A leading Brotherhood member, Mohammed el-Beltagi, singled out several critics of Morsi from among the ranks of the judiciary for criticism.

Blocks away near Tahrir Square, hundreds of demonstrators held a fourth straight day of protests against Morsi and the Brotherhood.

Wael Ghonim, an icon of the anti-Mubarak uprising, rejected Morsi’s decisions, arguing the president could have protected the revolution without concentrating so much power in his hands.

The Egyptian leader decreed that none of his decisions can be appealed until a new constitution is adopted and a new Parliament elected. Parliamentary elections are not likely before spring.

The decree also barred the courts from dissolving the assembly writing the new constitution. Several courts have been looking into lawsuits demanding the panel be disbanded.

The Brotherhood and Morsi allies who dominate the assembly have pushed to give the draft an Islamist slant that opponents fear would marginalize women and Christians, infringe on personal liberties, and give Muslim clerics a say in lawmaking. Liberal and Christian members withdrew from the assembly to protest what they say is the hijacking of the process by Morsi’s allies.

Morsi extended until February the deadline for the assembly to produce a draft.

He also barred any court from dissolving the Islamist-led upper house of Parliament, a largely toothless body that has also faced court cases.

The moves come as Morsi basks in praise from President Obama for mediating an end to eight days of fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

Morsi also fired the country’s top prosecutor, Abdel-Maguid Mahmoud, a Mubarak-era appointee.

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