Last updated: February 19. 2013 7:06PM - 153 Views

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CAIRO — Egypt's benchmark stock index plunged by nearly 10 percent Sunday in the first trading session since the country's Islamist president issued decrees to assume sweeping new powers, while police in central Cairo fired tear gas at protesters who accuse the Egyptian leader of a blatant power grab.


President Mohammed Morsi's edicts, which were announced on Thursday, place him above oversight of any kind, including that of the courts. The move has thrown Egypt's already troubled transition to democracy into further turmoil, sparking angry protests across the country to demand the decrees be immediately rescinded.


The judiciary, which was the main target of Morsi's edicts, has pushed back. Judges and prosecutors stayed away from several courts in Cairo and across much of the country.


The nation's highest judicial body called on judges and prosecutors to return to work and announced that its members would meet with Morsi on Monday to try to persuade him to restrict immunity to major state decisions like declaring war or martial law.


With the opening bell of the country's stock market on Sunday, the first day of the workweek in Egypt, the turmoil spread from the country's bitter politics to its already ailing economy. The Egyptian Exchange's EGX30 index dropped 9.59 percentage points, making the losses among the biggest since the turbulent days and weeks immediately after the ouster in a popular uprising of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak last year.


The loss in the value of shares was estimated at close to $5 billion.


Morsi, who narrowly won the presidency in June, said his measures were designed to protect the revolution, but they triggered an uproar among non-Islamist political groups now vowing to press on with street protests to force him to back down.


Late Sunday, Morsi's office issued an English-language statement defending his decrees, repeating the argument he used when addressing supporters Friday outside his Cairo palace that the measures were designed to bolster the country's transition to democratic rule and dismantle Mubarak's old regime.


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