Egypt minister resigns ahead of cabinet reshuffle

CAIRO - Egypt's Justice Minister Ahmed Mekky has resigned in protest at "an assault" on the judiciary by President Mohamed Mursi's Islamist backers, a spokesman said on Sunday, underlining mounting tensions between the judiciary and the executive.

Mekky submitted his resignation to Mursi on Saturday, said the spokesman, Ahmed Salam.

It followed a protest on Friday by Mursi's Islamist backers in the Muslim Brotherhood demanding the "purification" of the judiciary.

Mekki resigned ahead of a cabinet reshuffle in which he was expected to be replaced, state media reported.

President Mursi had said on Saturday he would order the reshuffle "soon," after months of pressure by opposition groups that demand an overhaul of the government before dropping a boycott of parliamentary elections.

Egyptian media had reported that Mekki would be one of the ministers replaced in the shake up, which a presidential aide said would affect up to eight ministries, including "important ones."

An outspoken supporter of judicial reform during the rule of deposed President Hosni Mubarak, Mekky was named justice minister in August in the first government appointed by Mursi after his victory in June's presidential election.

He opposes a proposed law under discussion in the Islamist-dominated parliament that critics say would give the government too much control over the make-up of the judiciary, according to local media reports.

Mekky had threatened to resign if it was passed, though the parliament has yet to vote on the law.

His resignation strips the government of a high-profile figure just as Mursi plans the reshuffle -- seen as an effort to ease tensions and convince the IMF there is enough political consensus on a loan deal vital to easing an economic crisis.

Egypt's economy has been hit by more than two years of turmoil that has scared off tourists and investors and triggered a currency and budget crisis.

The country, which has rapidly been burning through the hard currency reserves it needs to import food to feed its 84 million people, has in recent weeks sought financial support from its Arab allies and key emerging powers.

At the time he came to office, Mekky was widely respected as a reformer. But he quickly came under attack from critics who said he had abandoned his principles.

The criticism spiralled in November when Mursi issued a controversial decree which the opposition saw as a power grab. Mekky was caught off guard.

In his resignation letter, Mekky said Friday's protest showed that Mursi's allies now agreed with his opponents on the need for him to step down.

"Now is the time to realise my wish of lifting this burden from my shoulders," he wrote.

Thousands of Islamists rallied in Cairo on Friday, calling for the implementation of the new legislation and the removal of judges they see as corrupt remnants of the Mubarak era.

The protests triggered clashes in which dozens were injured.

Friction between the government and the judiciary has been on the rise since March when the Administrative Court ordered the cancellation of a Mursi decree calling for parliamentary elections, forcing a delay in voting due to have begun in April.

A court on Sunday rejected a state appeal against the ruling. Mursi has said the elections may now begin in October.

The Brotherhood points to other court rulings as proof of a judiciary dedicated to thwarting it.

These include last year's decision to dissolve the Islamist-led lower house of parliament.

- Reuters

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