Police and youths clash in Egypt
A handful of hardcore activists hurling rocks battled riot police in the streets near Tahrir Square yesterday, where several thousand protesters massed to demonstrate against Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi's decision to grab sweeping new powers.
Following a day of violence in Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said and Suez, the smell of teargas hung over the square - the heart of the uprising that swept Hosni Mubarak from power in February 2011.
More than 300 people were injured yesterday. Offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, which propelled Mr Morsi to power, were attacked in at least three cities.
Egypt's highest judicial authority said the decree marked an "unprecedented attack" on the independence of the judiciary, the state news agency reported.
Leftist, liberal and socialist parties have called for an open-ended sit-in with the aim of "toppling" the decree, which has also drawn statements of concern from the United States and the European Union.
A few dozen activists manning makeshift barricades kept traffic out of the square today.
Calling the decree "fascist and despotic", Mr Morsi's critics called for a big protest on Tuesday against a move they say has revealed the autocratic impulses of a man jailed by Mubarak, who outlawed Mr Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.
"We are facing a historic moment in which we either complete our revolution or we abandon it to become prey for a group that has put its narrow party interests above the national interest," the liberal Dustour Party said in a statement.
Issued late on Thursday, the decree marks an effort by the Morsi administration to consolidate its influence after it successfully sidelined Mubarak-era generals in August.
The decree reflects the Muslim Brotherhood's suspicion towards sections of a judiciary unreformed from Mubarak's days: it guards from judicial review decisions taken by Mr Morsi until a new parliament is elected in a vote expected early next year.
It also shields the assembly writing Egypt's new constitution from a raft of legal challenges that have threatened the Islamist-dominated assembly with dissolution.
The Morsi administration has defended the decree on the grounds that it aims to speed up a protracted transition from Mubarak's rule to a new system of democratic government.
"It aims to sideline Morsi's enemies in the judiciary and ultimately to impose and head off any legal challenges to the constitution," said Elijah Zarwan, a fellow with The European Council on Foreign Relations.
"We are in a situation now where both sides are escalating and its getting harder and harder to see how either side can gracefully climb down," Mr Zarwan said.