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Mursi draws fire with new Egypt decree

The decree will likely to lead to retrials of Hosni Mubarak and his aides, but was met with criticism.

Egypt President Mohamed Mursi. Picture: AFP

CAIRO - Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi triggered controversy on Thursday by issuing a decree likely to lead to retrials of Hosni Mubarak and his aides but which was compared to the ousted leader's autocratic ways.

As well as ordering retrials for Mubarak-era officials responsible for violence during the uprising against his rule, the decree shielded from legal challenge an Islamist-dominated assembly writing Egypt's new constitution.

It gave the same protection to the upper house of parliament, dominated by Islamists allied to Mursi, and assigned the president new powers that allowed him to sack the Mubarak-era prosecutor general and appoint a new one.

It stated that all decisions taken by Mursi until the election of a new parliament were exempt from legal challenge.

Presented as a move to "protect the revolution," the decree won immediate praise from Mursi's allies but stoked fears among secular-minded Egyptians that the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies aim to dominate the new Egypt. It seemed likely to deepen the divisions that have plagued the post-Mubarak era.

"These decisions will feed discord in Egyptian politics and will be far from creating a favourable climate for restoration of economic growth," said Mustapha Kamal Al-Sayyid, a professor of political science at Cairo University.

Leading liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradei, writing on his Twitter account, said Mursi had "usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh."

But Mahmoud Ghozlan, spokesman for the Brotherhood, described the move as "revolutionary and popular."

The decree appeared to remove any uncertainty still hanging over the fate of the assembly writing the constitution. The body has faced a raft of legal challenges from plaintiffs who dispute its legality.

Critics say its popular legitimacy had been further called into doubt by the withdrawal of many of its non-Islamist members, who had complained their voices were not being heard.

The constitution is a crucial element in Egypt's transition to democracy. New parliamentary elections will not be held until the document is completed and passed by a popular referendum.

The decree also gave the body an additional two months to complete its work, meaning the drafting process could stretch until February, pushing back new elections.

A number of political forces condemned the decree and said the president "robbed the people and institutions of all the rights and powers," in a statement they issued later at night.

The move to order a retrial of Mubarak-era officials will likely be popular among those who feel that revolutionary justice has yet to be served.

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