An influential group of Egyptian judges backed the state prosecutor’s refusal to resign after President Mohammed Mursi ordered his removal to allay public anger over the acquittals of Mubarak-era officials, state media reported on Friday.
The disagreement revived a power struggle between the Islamist leader and the judiciary, which comprises influential judges appointed under ousted former president Hosni Mubarak.
Abdel Maguid Mahmud refused to quit on Thursday, hours after Mursi ordered his removal to allay public anger over the acquittals of Mubarak-era officials accused of organizing a notorious camel-borne assault on protesters last year.
The president’s bid to remove Mahmud by issuing a decree appointing him as ambassador to the Vatican bypassed checks on presidential control over the prosecutor’s job, and came as the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, from which Mursi emerged, called for protests on Friday against the acquittals.
The decision reopened a rift with powerful judges appointed under Mubarak and Mursi, who has unsuccessfully tried to reverse a court order disbanding the Islamist-dominated parliament following his election in June.
Ahmed al-Zind, head of the Judges’ Club, said the judiciary backed Mahmud to uphold “the sovereignty of the law and the principle of separation of powers,” the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper reported.
He said the judges would hold an emergency meeting “to confront the current crisis that aims at harming the judiciary.”
Zind’s group had fiercely opposed the Islamist’s election last June, which ended a military-led transition after a popular uprising overthrew Mubarak in February 2011.
Morsi had pledged to retry Mubarak and his senior officials for their role in the killing of protesters during the revolt, after trials critics said were bungled by the state prosecutor's office.
On Wednesday, a court acquitted 24 people -- including the former speakers of Egypt’s two houses of parliament Safwat al-Sherif and Fathi Surur -- of organizing an attack on anti-Mubarak protesters during the uprising.
The February 2, 2011, attack by pro-Mubarak supporters -- some riding horses and camels -- on protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square came on one of the revolt's bloodiest days, with clashes leaving more than 20 dead.
Around 850 people died during the 18-day uprising.
The Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, which Mursi headed before his election, said in a statement that the prosecutor must either present new evidence for a retrial or resign.
“The responsibility for achieving justice falls primarily on the state prosecutor,” it said in the statement reported by the party newspaper on Friday.
Mubarak and his former interior minister Habib al-Adly were sentenced to life in prison in June for failing to prevent killings of protesters during the 18-day revolt, but their police chiefs were all acquitted.
Friday’s protest against the acquittals will coincide with another rally secular activists have called for against the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting the country’s new constitution.
The Supreme Administrative Court is set to rule on the assembly’s legality on October 16, after several lawsuits challenged the committee's legality and its mechanism for choosing its members.