A group of Egyptian judges has criticised President Mohammed Mursi’s attempt to remove the country’s top prosecutor as a “farce”.
The president said he was reassigning prosecutor-general Abdel Maguid Mahmoud, regarded as a figure from the old regime, as Vatican envoy.
But Mr Mahmoud has said he will not go.
The move against him followed an angry public response to the high-profile acquittal of a group of supporters of the old regime.
Twenty-four supporters of ousted President Hosni Mubarak were cleared of organising attacks on protesters during last year’s uprising.
They had been accused of sending men on camels and horses to break up a protest in Cairo in 2011, leaving several people dead.
Hundreds of demonstrators rallied in the capital Cairo against the acquittals, and the Muslim Brotherhood – the Islamist movement to which President Mursi belongs – has organised more protests for Friday.
Many of the protesters blamed Mr Mahmoud for the decision.
But his colleagues rallied to his support, calling an emergency meeting of a top judges’ club to condemn the president’s decision.
“Egypt’s law on judicial authority offers judges immunity and prevents exiling them from their posts in order to protect their independence from the executive authority,” said senior judge Walid Shafie after the meeting.
The head of the judges’ club, Ahmed al-Zind, was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying the judiciary would not bow to the “farce”, adding: “The era of tyrants is over.”
The case against the Mubarak supporters is the latest flashpoint between Mr Mursi’s government, elected earlier this year, and supporters of the old regime.
Some senior members of the Mubarak regime were among those accused.
They included Fathi Sorour and Safwat al-Sherif, former speakers of Egypt’s two houses of parliament.
Prosecutors said Mr Sherif, who was also the secretary general of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NPD), had “contacted MPs, members of the NDP and financiers of the party, inciting them to disperse the protests in Tahrir Square by force and violence”.