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Egypt justice minister submits resignation

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 21, 2013 at 2:29 pm •  Published: April 21, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's justice minister submitted his resignation Sunday, a Cabinet spokesman said, in a move that signaled strong disapproval of the president's handling of a prolonged showdown with the country's judiciary.

The letter of resignation surfaced publicly a day after President Mohammed Morsi said he would reshuffle the Cabinet, amid calls by both his opponents and supporters for Justice Minister Ahmed Mekki to step down.

In a copy of the letter obtained by The Associated Press, Mekki said that he wanted to leave office in part because of protests against him.

Mekki, a pro-reform judge under the former regime of Hosni Mubarak, faces criticism from judges and activists who accuse him of siding with Morsi by largely keeping silent in the power struggle with the judiciary.

On the other hand, Morsi's Islamist backers recently accused Mekki of not doing enough to reform the justice system following a number of acquittals of former regime officials charged with corruption and nearly all policemen charged with killing protesters during the 2011 uprising.

The resignation highlights how the judiciary has become a significant battleground. It is the sole branch of government not dominated by Morsi's Islamist allies, although he does have some backers among the judges. The president has been accused by some judges of trying to undermine their authority, particularly after the judiciary dealt his backers several setbacks including dissolving the Islamist-led lower house of parliament last year and forcing a delay for fresh elections.

Morsi's supporters engaged in violent street clashes Friday with opponents over calls to "cleanse the judiciary."

The president said he sees calls to purge the judiciary to fall in the framework of people's worries over acquittals of Mubarak-era figures.

"This worry is from people who see recent verdicts that do not live up to their expectations," Morsi said in an interview with Al-Jazeera aired late Saturday.

During Friday's rallies, Mohammed el-Beltagi, a leading Brotherhood member, told supporters that the judiciary is backing "the counter-revolution" and that Egypt is in need of "revolutionary decisions," referring to proposed judicial laws.

Among several proposals for reforming the judiciary is one that would lower the retirement age for judges to 60, which could send into retirement as much as a quarter of Egypt's approximately 13,000 judges and prosecution officials.

Supporters of Morsi say the judiciary is packed with former regime loyalists who are blocking his policies and derailing Egypt's transition to democracy.

Egypt's largely liberal opposition are also calling for reforming the judiciary, but say that what Morsi's backers are seeking is to liquidate the branch and fill it with their own members.

Some fear Islamists would take over the courts and get rid of secular-minded judges, which could consolidate the power of the president's Muslim Brotherhood group.

Murad Ali, spokesman of the Brotherhood's party, said in a statement that the group differed with Mekki and expected more from him "at this critical stage."

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