The Egyptian justice minister has resigned following demands by the Muslim Brotherhood that the judiciary be "purified". President Mursi is holding talks with top judges to try and resolve the issue.
Secular, and liberal members of the opposition denounced what they consider the "Brotherhoodisation" of the judiciary. They called for demonstrations outside parliament.
A presidential source claimed that Mursi met with the Supreme Judicial Council together with the prosecutor general to discuss a draft law that was to go through the Islamist-dominated upper house on Wednesday ( April 24). The Islamist backers of Mursi want to purge all judges appointed during the nearly 30 years that Hosni Mubarak ruled.
One provision would put the mandatory retirement age at 60 rather than 70 at present. This would force hundreds of judges to retire immediately. Critics of the bill say it would eliminate more than 3,000 judges. The move would also remove most members of the constitutional court that has at times thwarted Mursi's legislative plans.
The opposition National Salvation Front leaders called for demonstrations outside the upper house (Shura Council) to protest the bill. Liberal politician, Mohamed El Baradei called the move by the government "the judges' massacre">
The bill's supporters were angered by the acquittal and even release of former Mubarak officials who had been charged with abuses of power or corruption. Supporters claim that the bill would remove at least 300 senior judges associated with the Mubarak regime. Mursi's pick for prosecutor general Talaat Ibrahim is accused by the opposition as having an Islamist bias. An appeals court ruled last year that his appointment by Mursi last year was not legal.
There has often been conflict between courts and the government. The constitutional court invalidated the election law under which the first parliament was elected. This forced its dissolution.
The same court also invalidated Mursi's attempt to replace the law. Mursi was forced to cancel plans for elections that were to start this month. An appeals court also upheld an appeal by Mubarak and one of his ministers against life sentences for complicity in killings of hundreds of demonstrators.
The Egyptian Judges Club angrily denounced the draft law. Ahmed al-Zend, head of the Club claimed that the Shura Council was not entitled to pass such a bill. The group had support from opposition presidential candidate Hamdeed Sabahi who said the draft law was a "crime". In spite of the association of many judges with the former regime, many in the opposition see the judiciary as the only governmental branch not dominated by Mursi's Islamist allies.
Mursi tries to put the purge within the framework of people's anger over the acquittal of Mubarak regime officials. However, the opposition fears that Mursi will purge the judiciary of secular-minded independent judges in order to consolidate power in the Muslim Brotherhood.