Egypt's political foes dig in their heels

Associated Press Modified: November 25, 2012 at 6:46 pm •  Published: November 25, 2012
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CAIRO (AP) — Supporters and opponents of Egypt's president on Sunday grew more entrenched in their potentially destabilizing battle over the Islamist leader's move to assume near absolute powers, with neither side appearing willing to back down as the stock market plunged amid the fresh turmoil.

The standoff poses one of the hardest tests for the nation's liberal and secular opposition since Hosni Mubarak's ouster nearly two years ago. Failure to sustain protests and eventually force Mohammed Morsi to loosen control could consign it to long-term irrelevance.

Clashes between the two sides spilled onto the streets for a third day since the president issued edicts that make him immune to oversight of any kind, including that of the courts.

A teenager was killed and at least 40 people were wounded when a group of anti-Morsi protesters tried to storm the local offices of the political arm of the president's Muslim Brotherhood in the Nile Delta city of Damanhoor, according to security officials.

It was the first reported death from the street battles that erupted across much of the nation on Friday, the day after Morsi's decrees were announced. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, identified the boy as 15-year-old Islam Hamdi Abdel-Maqsood.

The tensions also dealt a fresh blow to the economy, which has suffered due to the problems plaguing the Arab world's most populous nation since Mubarak's ouster.

Egypt's benchmark EGX30 stock index dropped 9.59 percentage points Sunday in the first trading session since Morsi issued his decrees. The losses were among the biggest since the turbulent days and weeks immediately after Mubarak's ouster in a popular uprising last year. The loss in the value of shares was estimated at close to $5 billion.

The judiciary, the main target of the edicts, has pushed back, calling the decrees a power grab and an "assault" on the branch's independence. Judges and prosecutors stayed away from many courts in Cairo and other cities on Sunday.

But the nation's highest judicial body, the Supreme Judiciary Council, watered down its opposition to the decrees on Sunday. It told judges and prosecutors to return to work and announced that its members would meet with Morsi on Monday to try to persuade him to restrict immunity to major state decisions like declaring war or martial law or breaking diplomatic relations with foreign nations.

Morsi supporters insist that the measures were necessary to prevent the courts, which already dissolved the elected lower house of parliament, from further holding up moves to stability by disbanding the assembly writing the new constitution, as judges were considering doing. Both the parliament and the constitutional assembly are dominated by Islamists. Morsi accuses Mubarak loyalists in the judiciary of seeking to thwart the revolution's goals and barred the judiciary from disbanding the constitutional assembly or parliament's upper house.

Opposition activists, however, have been adamant since the crisis first erupted that they would not enter a dialogue with Morsi's regime before the decrees are rescinded.

Protesters also clashed with police at Cairo's Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the mass protests that toppled Mubarak, and in the side streets and avenues leading off the plaza. The Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, said 267 protesters have been arrested and 164 policemen injured since the unrest began a week ago, initially to mark the anniversary of street protests a year ago against the nation's then-military rulers. Forty-two protesters were killed in those demonstrations.

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