Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi expanded his authority Thursday in a startling power grab that weakens the courts and frees him from judicial oversight amid deepening political intrigue in the Arab world’s most populous nation.

The Islamist president’s bold gesture, which infuriated civil rights leaders, came the day after he was praised for negotiating a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Thursday’s move effectively makes Morsi, who already holds executive and legislative powers, the ultimate force in a country that has no parliament and has yet to draft a new constitution.

The decree, which still could be challenged by the Supreme Constitutional Court, extends immunity to the Islamist-led assembly writing the constitution. The court has been reviewing whether to dissolve the body over legitimacy questions. But Morsi’s decision appears to protect from judicial oversight the assembly that secularists accuse of wanting to impose Sharia law.

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