* Tuesday's protest one of biggest since Mubarak's ouster
* Protesters say won't leave Tahrir until decree scrapped
* Mursi and senior judges held talks on compromise
* Assembly drawing up constitution in firing line
By Edmund Blair
CAIRO, Nov 28 Hundreds of protesters were in
Cairo's Tahrir Square for a sixth day on Wednesday, demanding
that Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi rescind a decree they say
gives him dictatorial powers.
Five months into the Islamist leader's term, and in scenes
reminiscent of the popular uprising that unseated predecessor
Hosni Mubarak last year, police fired teargas at stone-throwers
following protests by tens of thousands on Tuesday against the
declaration that expanded Mursi's powers and put his decisions
beyond legal challenge.
Protesters say they will stay in Tahrir until the decree is
withdrawn, bringing fresh turmoil to a nation at the heart of
the Arab Spring and delivering a new blow to an economy already
on the ropes.
Senior judges have been negotiating with Mursi about how to
restrict his new powers, while protesters want him to dissolve
an Islamist-dominated assembly that is drawing up a new
constitution and which Mursi protected from legal review.
Any deal to calm the street will likely need to address both
issues. But opposition politicians said the list of demands
could grow the longer the crisis goes on. Many protesters want
the cabinet, which meets on Wednesday, to be sacked, too.
Mursi's administration insists that his actions were aimed
at breaking a political logjam to push Egypt more swiftly
towards democracy, an assertion his opponents dismiss.
"The president wants to create a new dictatorship," said
38-year-old Mohamed Sayyed Ahmed, who has not had a job for two
years. He is one of many in the square who are as angry over
economic hardship as they are about Mursi's actions.
"We want the scrapping of the constitutional declaration and
the constituent assembly, so a new one is created representing
all the people and not just one section," he said.
The West worries about turbulence in a nation that has a
peace treaty with Israel and is now ruled by Islamists they long
kept at arms length. The United States, a big donor to Egypt's
military, has called for "peaceful democratic dialogue".
Two people have been killed in violence since the decree,
while low-level clashes between protesters and police have gone
on for days near Tahrir. Violence has flared in other cities.
Trying to ease tensions with judges, Mursi assured Egypt's
highest judicial authority that elements of his decree giving
his decisions immunity applied only to matters of "sovereign"
importance, a compromise suggested by the judges in talks.
That should limit it to issues such as declaring war, but
experts said there was much room for interpretation. The judges
themselves are divided, and the broader judiciary has yet to
back the compromise. Some have gone on strike over the decree.
The fate of the assembly drawing up the constitution has
been at the centre of a wrangle between Islamists and their
opponents for months. Many liberals, Christians and more
moderate Muslims have walked out, saying their voices are not
being heard in the body dominated by Islamists.
That has undermined the work of the assembly, which is
tasked with shaping Egypt's new democracy. Without a
constitution in place, the president's powers are not
permanently defined and a new parliament cannot be elected.
For now, Mursi holds both executive and legislative powers.
His decree says his decisions cannot be challenged until a new
parliament is in place. An election is expected in early 2013.
"If Mursi doesn't respond to the people, they will raise
their demands to his removal," said Bassem Kamel, a liberal and
former member of the now dissolved parliament that was dominated
by Mursi's party, a wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.
He said Tuesday's protest showed that Egyptians "understood
that the Brotherhood isn't for democracy but uses it as a tool
to reach power and then to get rid of it".
Protecting his decisions and the constituent assembly from
legal review was a swipe at the judiciary, still largely
unreformed since Mubarak's era. In a speech on Friday, Mursi
praised the judiciary as a whole but referred to corrupt
elements he aimed to weed out.
One presidential source said Mursi wanted to re-make the
Supreme Constitutional Court, a body of top judges that earlier
this year declared the Islamist-led parliament void, leading to
its dissolution by the then ruling military.
Both Islamists and their opponents broadly agree that the
judiciary needs reform, but Mursi's rivals oppose his methods.
The courts have dealt a series of blows to Mursi and the
Brotherhood. The first constituent assembly, also packed with
Islamists, was dissolved. An attempt by Mursi in October to
remove the unpopular general prosecutor was also blocked.
In his decree, Mursi gave himself the power to sack the
prosecutor general and appoint a new one, which he duly did.