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Egypt’s Morsi moves to dismiss top prosecutor after ‘camel battle’ acquittals

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CAIRO — Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi moved to dismiss the country’s general prosecutor Thursday, ahead of a mass demonstration planned for Friday.

Activist groups and political parties called for a nationwide protest Friday after a court acquitted all 24 people charged with involvement in one of the most violent episodes of Egypt’s uprising last year.

On Feb. 2, 2011, men on camels and horseback attacked protesters who had occupied Cairo’s Tahrir Square calling for then-President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. The Wednesday acquittal of all the suspects in the case was met with widespread anger.

But ousting the prosecutor general, Abdelmaguid Mahmoud, who served for six years under Mubarak, may be difficult. Mahmoud said late Thursday that he was not leaving his post, according to the state-run Middle East News Agency.

And legal experts said that the country’s laws technically ban the president from firing members of the judiciary; Morsi, they said, had navigated a legal loophole by appointing Mahmoud to a new position instead, as Egypt’s ambassador to the Vatican.

Egyptians have protested repeatedly since Mubarak’s fall over what they say has been the slow pace of justice for crimes committed by the former regime. Morsi, who is Egypt’s first democratically elected president and hails from the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood, has come under heightened public pressure since his election in June to bring fast solutions to the country’s ailing economy and corrupt justice system.

“There are many cases that the general prosecutor still had not addressed — cases of corruption and murder,” said Gamal Hishmat, an official in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. “This was a failure for the general prosecutor. These delays need to be taken seriously.”

If Morsi succeeds in sacking Mahmoud, the move would also be consistent with what analysts say has been a well-timed and calculated pattern of dismissals since the president took office in July.

In August, militants in the Sinai Peninsula killed 16 Egyptian security forces in an ambush near the Israeli border. Morsi responded with a wave of government dismissals, first ousting his intelligence chief and other heads of government security agencies, before moving on to the country’s top generals, including Egypt’s defense minister, Mohammed Hussein Tantawi.

The wave of popular anger over the “camel battle” acquittals may have eased another removal that Morsi already had on the agenda, analysts said.

“These were men of the former regime, and they had key posts and should have been removed a long time ago,” said Hassan Nafaa, a political science professor at Cairo University and a newspaper columnist. “Just as he waited until the Rafah incident to remove Tantawi and the other military guys, he just took advantage of this unpopular court decision to remove the prosecutor.”

Mahmoud’s elimination from the judiciary would probably find broad popular support, Nafaa said.

Officials and legal experts said that the general prosecutor’s deputy would step in until a new prosecutor general is appointed by the president in consultation with Egypt’s top panel of judges.

Egypt’s judiciary is officially an independent institution, but Mubarak stacked the courts with loyalists during his final years in office. Morsi appointed a member of the Muslim Brotherhood to be his government’s justice minister.

A replacement for Mahmoud in the prosecutor’s chair could further bolster Morsi’s legal clout. A friendly judiciary would be a boon to the Muslim Brotherhood, which has sought through Morsi to cement its place as Egypt’s new ruling party, and which dominates the assembly that is now drafting Egypt’s new constitution.

“When the political system is not functioning well, the role of the judiciary is very important,” Nafaa said. “It’s a replacement for the political system, as a matter of fact.”

Ingy Hassieb contributed to this report.

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