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Nov 24, 2012 8:21 AM by CNN

Egypt's President declares he has unchecked power

Egypt's highest judicial body joined protesters Saturday in lambasting the country's president for issuing a decree disabling the courts and giving him unchecked power.

President Mohamed Morsy on Thursday announced that courts could not overturn any decree or law he has issued since taking office in June and, beyond that, in the six months until a new constitution is finalized, his spokesman said on state-run TV.

He also fired Egypt's general prosecutor, who has been criticized for the insufficient prosecutions of those suspected in demonstrators' deaths in 2011.

The Supreme Judicial Council, the highest judicial body in Egypt, weighed in Saturday, calling the decree an "unprecedented attack on the independence of the judicial branch," state-run media reported.

"The Supreme Judicial Council, which is in charge of all matters related to the judiciary and the judges, expresses its dismay at the issuance of such a decree and is calling on the president of the republic to distance himself from all matters related to the judicial branch and its agencies," state news agency MENA said.

The decree sparked demonstrations in Egypt and widespread anger in the country at Morsy, who had been widely praised across the world for spearheading a cease-fire agreement in Gaza after eight days of fighting between Israel and Hamas.

Dozens of protesters, some throwing rocks, faced off in central Cairo Saturday morning with police, who fired tear gas canisters at them.

The gas drifted through streets near a more thinly populated Tahrir Square, where just a day before thousands of protesters called for the overthrow of the regime.

Nearly two years after popular unrest spurred former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's fall, throngs have taken to Egypt's streets in past days to call for revolution again, this time for the ouster of his successor.

Tents dot Cairo's Tahrir Square, just as they did during the 2011 uprising, and clashes between protesters and police were reported Friday in the capital, the port city of Alexandria and elsewhere around the North African nation. Opposition leaders say they are firm in their resolve and, in Cairo's landmark square at least, scores could be seen milling about overnight.

In a country already without a parliament, Morsy's announcement means the former Muslim Brotherhood leader seems to have total executive, legislative and now judicial authority, all as a new constitution is being written.

"It's unprecedented, it's unimaginable, it's more (power) than Mr. Mubarak ever had," Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel laureate and head of Egypt's Constitution Party, told CNN. "This is the language of a dictator."

ElBaradei, a one-time head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, urged "civil disobedience." He and others who unsuccessfully ran for president signaled that they were unified in their opposition to Morsy.

"Endorsing the position of ElBaradei, (former Arab League chief) Amr Moussa and others, I urge all who voted for me to stand with us against the tyranny of the regime," wrote Ahmed Shafik, a former prime minister who received 48% of the vote in this year's presidential run-off, on Twitter.

Despite such opposition, Morsy was defiant and insistent Friday that his actions are in the interests of the Egyptian people.

"I have dedicated myself and my life for democracy and freedom," he told hundreds of supporters outside the presidential palace in Cairo. "The steps I took are meant to achieve political and social stability."

The chair of Egypt's Cabinet, Mohamed Refaa al-Tahtawi, brushed back criticisms that Morsy had made an undemocratic power grab, saying the opposite is true and that Morsy "is not really trying to monopolize power."

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