Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi has ordered a retrial of officials involved in protester killings during the 2011 revolution, in a highly anticipated announcement issuing constitutional amendments on Thursday night.
Among the presidential decrees made in the announcement by his spokesman, Mursi sacked the current state prosecutor Abdel Maguid Mahmoud and appointed a replacement.
Mahmoud was at the center of controversy in recent months after he refused to quit after being dismissed by Mursi.
Mursi tried to remove the veteran prosecutor after the acquittals of Hosni Mubarak-era officials on trial for a deadly attack on protesters during the 2011 uprising that led to the long-time strongman standing down.
On Thursday night, crowds in Tahrir Square following the announcement celebrated Mursi's constitutional amendments, chanting: "The people want Abdel Maguid to be tried."
But as hundreds turned out on in support of the new declaration granting him sweeping powers, a rival protest criticised "the making of new dictator."
"The people want the cleansing of the judiciary," chanted hundreds of Islamist protesters, who had gathered outside the High Court three hours before Morsi had even made his announcement.
The new declaration allows the president to "issue any decision or measure to protect the revolution," according to the text.
The president also announced the appointment of Talaat Ibrahim Abdullah as the new state prosecutor.
"The public prosecutor general will occupy his post for a period of four years," said Yasser Ali, a presidential spokesman.
Abdallah announced his intention to retry Mubarak, his Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and other officials of the ousted regime on charges of killing protesters, local media reported.
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 February 11, 2011 downfall. He has been held in a prison hospital since his sentence was handed down.
Yet 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.
A rundown of the main presidential decrees made in the announcement.
1. President announces that all decisions, laws and declarations passed by the president since taking office cannot be appealed or revoked by any authority, including the judicary.
2. President announces that Egypt's constitution-drafting body and the Shura Council (uppper house of parliament) cannot be dissolved by any authority, including the judicary. In addition, the timeframe for drafting the constitution has been extended by two months, to eight months in total. The Constituent Assembly was due to hand in the final draft of Egypt's national charter by the 5 December.
3. President announces the re-trial all those charged with killing or injuring protesters involved in revolutionary demonstrations since January 25 Revolution. In addition, all Mubarak-era officials responsible for terrorizing protesters will be retried.
4. President announces appointment of Talaat Ibrahim as prosecutor-general in place of Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud.
(Courtesy: Ahram Online)
But the constitutional amendments, which grant Mursi far-reaching powers, is likely to inflame a standoff with the country's judiciary.
The decree protects an assembly writing the country's new constitution from dissolution and gives it extra time to finish its work.
The new constitution is a fundamental component of Egypt's transition to democracy but its drafting has been plagued by disputes, mainly pitting Islamists against their secular-minded critics.
The decree read on state TV by the presidential spokesman stipulated that the assembly could not be dissolved by the judiciary or Shoura council, Egypt's upper house of parliament.
Earlier on Thursday, Mursi said all the decisions he has taken, and will take, are in support of the goals of last years revolution. The comments, posted on his official Twitter account, come as protesters and police clashed for a fourth day in Cairo.
The state-run Ahram Gate said he had summoned the prime minister for discussions and had held an emergency meeting with the justice minister.
The announcement is “regarding a decision that has been under extensive study,” the news site added.
Drafting the current Egyptian constitution has further divided Egyptians between Islamists who want to have more of a Sharia-oriented constitutions and seculars including judges who oppose suggestions by Islamists.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood ordered its members not to travel abroad as they might be needed to take on the streets to support “revolutionary” decisions expected to be announced by the country’s president, sources told a news agency.
The sources, who wished to remain anonymous, told Anadolu Agency Thursday that the Muslim Brotherhood is in a state of alert and expected to start marches to defend “revolutionary” decisions that were expected to be made by Mursi.
Mursi became the chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) when it was founded by the Muslim Brotherhood in 2011. He was FJP’s candidate for the May-June 2012 presidential election.
The Islamist group’s state of alert is also to counter expected violence that can destabilize the political scene and oust President Mursi and his government, the sources added.
Meanwhile, more than 72 people have been injured in central Cairo, some with bullet wounds, during clashes between police and protesters on the anniversary of lethal street violence between activists and security forces.
Activists called for the protest on Nov. 19 to put pressure on President Mursi to punish those responsible for killings and abuses during the rule of the generals who assumed power after Mubarak was toppled by the uprising in Feb. 2011.
Egypt’s Brotherhood readies for protests
The skirmishes, which extended to four days, erupted at the scene of clashes last year in which 42 people were killed during protests against the military council that ran the country before Mursi was elected in June.
Some activists said the latest bout of violence began when police forces threw rocks at protesters to try to stop them from taking down concrete barriers that have blocked off roads to the Interior Ministry since last year.
They said they had a court order allowing the barriers to be removed.
Nineteen people have been arrested during the clashes, in which protesters hurling stones and petrol bombs at police guarding the Interior Ministry were repelled with teargas.
Some protesters said that security personnel threw stones at them from the top of a school building on the second day of protest.
Some of the protesters taken to hospital were severely injured from birdshot and bullets, state news agency MENA reported.
A member of the 6th of April youth movement, Gaber Salah, was wounded with birdshot in the head, neck, chest and arms and put on life support in intensive care, MENA said.
In an address on state television on Nov.20, Prime Minister Hisham Kandil said: “We support peaceful protests ... but under all circumstances people cannot attack buildings or police because police protect our buildings and children.”
Last year’s street battles started when police pulled down the tents of protesters who had camped overnight in Tahrir Square - the heart of the uprising against Mubarak - after a demonstration against the generals.
That prompted thousands of protesters to return to the square and clashes erupted. The violence became known as the “Mohamed Mahmoud events” after the street in which they took place. The street is located off Tahrir Square.
During the protest, stones and empty bottles were hurled by demonstrators that injured 24 people, including four policemen.
Television footage of the protest showed children and teenagers, some of them carrying school backpacks, taking part. Some were shown throwing rocks at buildings. One youth was pictured using a fire extinguisher to smash a window.
Protests, which have become frequent in Egypt since Mubarak’s overthrow, often begin calmly before attracting what some democracy activists have described as delinquent youths looking for trouble.