* Decree orders retrial of Mubarak-era officials
* Shields Islamist-dominated constitutional assembly
* Says Mursi decisions not open to legal challenge
By Marwa Awad
CAIRO, Nov 22 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
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.
Mubarak, 84, was sentenced to life in prison in June for
failing to prevent killings that occurred during the uprising
that led to his Feb. 11, 2011 downfall. He has been held in a
prison hospital since his sentence was handed down.
Critics have faulted the process by which he and other
officials were put on trial. One of the problems, they say, was
that the Mubarak-era prosecutor general had not been replaced.
Mursi had tried to replace Abdel Maguid Mahmoud, the man
sacked on Thursday, in October. The move kicked up a storm of
protest from judges who said the president had exceeded his
powers and was threatening their independence.
Mursi got around the problem this time by giving himself the
power to appoint a new prosecutor general, Talat Abdullah, whose
swearing-in was shown on state television.
In a statement broadcast on state TV, Abdullah vowed to
"work with colleagues at the public prosecution's office to
uphold justice and eradicate oppression."
Ali said a new prosecution office would be established to
"protect the revolution" and made up of judges who would be
given powers to order investigations and collect evidence.
Heba Morayef, Egypt director for Human Rights Watch, said:
"Egypt needed judicial reform and the public prosecutor is a
Mubarak holdover, but granting the president absolute power and
immunity is not the way to do it."