BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union on Friday called on Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi to respect the democratic process in his country after he issued a decree exempting all his decisions from legal challenge until a new parliament is elected.
"It is of utmost importance that (the) democratic process be completed in accordance with the commitments undertaken by the Egyptian leadership," a spokesman for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.
These commitments included "the separation of powers, the independence of justice, the protection of fundamental freedoms and the holding of democratic parliamentary elections as soon as possible", he said.
Mursi's decree on Thursday also shielded from legal challenge an Islamist-dominated assembly writing Egypt's new constitution, as well as the upper house of parliament, which is dominated by Islamists allied to Mursi.
Mursi's aides said the move, which also gave the president new powers that allowed him to sack the Mubarak-era prosecutor general and appoint a new one, was to speed up the country's protracted transition that has been hindered by legal obstacles.
But the declaration raised fears among secular-minded Egyptians that the Muslim Brotherhood, where Mursi has his roots, and the group's allies aim to dominate the new Egypt.
Europe wants to keep Egypt as an ally of the West after the collapse of Mubarak's authoritarian rule last year.
The European Union is Egypt's biggest trading partner, accounting for more than 30 percent of the country's trade volume. EU-Egypt bilateral trade was worth $23 billion in 2011, its highest ever level.
Last week, the EU said it would provide Egypt with nearly 5 billion euros in loans and grants for 2012-2013. The funds will be provided by the European Commission, the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Mursi visited Brussels in September for talks with EU leaders.
(Reporting by Sebastian Moffett; Editing by Alison Williams)