- Anger flares across country after President Mohammed Morsi issues decree which puts him ‘above judicial oversight’
- Opponents respond by burning Brotherhood’s offices across the country
- Violent clashes have broken out between opponents and supporters of the president in cities such as Suez, Port Said and Alexandria
- Pro-reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei said the decree is a ‘major blow to the revolution’
PUBLISHED: 08:18 EST, 23 November 2012 | UPDATED: 18:34 EST, 23 November 2012
Riots broke out across Egypt yesterday in protest against President Mohammed Mursi’s ‘seizure’ of sweeping new powers.
A day after Mr Mursi declared that the president’s decisions could not be revoked, even by the judiciary, tens of thousands of pro-democracy activists converged on Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Mr Morsi’s opponents threw molotov cocktails at a police van and set fire to Muslim Brotherhood offices in the Suez Canal cities of Suez, Port Said and Ismailia. Violence also erupted between rival factions across the country.
Critics of Morsi accused him of seizing dictatorial powers with the decrees that make him immune to judicial oversight and give him authority to take any steps against ‘threats to the revolution’ – rules that rights groups say are like ’emergency laws.’
The president spoke before a crowd of his supporters massed in front of his palace and said his edits were necessary to stop a ‘minority’ that was trying to block the goals of the revolution.
‘There are weevils eating away at the nation of Egypt,’ he said, pointing to old regime loyalists he accused of using money to fuel instability and to members of the judiciary who work under the ‘umbrella’ of the courts to ‘harm the country’.
But the move has divided the country and people for and against the reforms made by the Islamist president have gathered in places such as Tahrir Square in Cairo and near the presidential palace.
In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, anti-Morsi crowds attacked Brotherhood backers coming out of a mosque, raining stones and firecrackers on them.
The Brothers held up prayer rugs to protect themselves and the two sides pelted each other with stones and chunks of marble, leaving at least 15 injured. The protesters then stormed a nearby Brotherhood office.
In the capital Cairo, security forces pumped volleys of tear gas at thousands of pro-democracy protesters clashing with riot police on streets several blocks from Tahrir Square.
Tens of thousands of activists massed in Tahrir itself, angered at the decisions by Morsi. Many of them represent Egypt’s upper-class, liberal elite, which have largely stayed out of protests in past months but were prominent in the streets during the anti-Muabrak uprising that began Jan. 25, 2011.
Protesters chanted, “Leave, leave” and “Morsi is Mubarak … Revolution everywhere.’
‘We are in a state of revolution. He is crazy of he thinks he can go back to one-man rule,” one protester at Tahrir, Sara Khalil, said of Morsi. ‘This decision shows how insecure and weak he is because he knows there is no consensus.’
‘If the Brotherhood’s slogan is “Islam is the solution” ours is “submission is not the solution”,’ said Khalil, a mass communications professor at the American University in Cairo. ‘And this is Islamic because God does not call for submission to another man’s will.’
Riding high on US and international praise for mediating a Gaza cease-fire, the president put himself above oversight and gave protection to the Islamist-led assembly – writing a new constitution from a looming threat of dissolution by court order.
But the move is likely to fuel growing public anger that he and the Muslim Brotherhood are seizing too much power.
In what was interpreted by rights activists as a de facto declaration of emergency law, one of Mr Morsi’s decrees gave him the power to take ‘due measures and steps’ to deal with any ‘threat’ to the revolution, national unity and safety or anything that obstructs the work of state institutions.
He framed his decisions as necessary to protect the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago and to cement the nation’s transition to democratic rule.
Many activists, including opponents of the Brotherhood, criticise the judiciary as packed with judges and prosecutors sympathetic to Mr Mubarak. Brotherhood supporters accuse the courts of trying to block their agenda.
‘He had to act to save the country and protect the course of the revolution,’ said one of Mr Morsi’s aides, Pakinam al-Sharqawi, speaking on Al-Jazeera.
In a nod to revolutionary sentiment, Mr Morsi also ordered the retrial of Mr Mubarak and top aides on charges of killing protesters during the uprising.
He also created a new ‘protection of the revolution’ judicial body to swiftly carry out the prosecutions.
But he did not order retrials for lower-level police acquitted of such killings, another widespread popular demand that would disillusion the security forces if carried out.
Liberal politicians immediately criticised the decrees as dictatorial and destined to divide a nation already reeling from months of turmoil following Mr Mubarak’s ousting. Some claim they exceeded the powers once enjoyed by the former president.
Violence: Egyptian supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsi clashed in Alexandria
Opposition: Many anti-Morsi campaigners believe the president is similar to former president Hosni Mubarak
Mock-up: A poster depicts Morsi as a Pharaoh during a rally in Garden City, Cairo
‘Morsi today usurped all state powers & appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh,’ pro-reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on Twitter. ‘A major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences.’
Mr ElBaradei later addressed a news conference flanked by other prominent politicians from outside the Brotherhood – including two presidential candidates who ran against Mr Morsi – Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi.
They pledged to cooperate to force the president to rescind his assumption of greater powers.
They called for mass protests today to demand the dissolution of the declarations.
The prospect of large rival protests involving Mr Morsi’s opponents and supporters in Cairo today raises the likelihood of clashes.
Thousands from the rival camps were already out on the streets of Cairo late yesterday in an increasingly charged atmosphere.
A crowd of Brotherhood supporters massed outside the Supreme Court building and offices of the prosecutor general – whom Mr Morsi removed in Thursday’s edict.
In Tahrir Square, hundreds of demonstrators held a fourth straight day of protests against Morsi and the Brotherhood. ‘Brotherhood is banned from entry,’ declared a large banner at the protest.
The Egyptian leader decreed that all decisions he has made since taking office in June and until a new constitution is adopted and a new parliament is elected cannot be appealed in court or by any other authority. Parliamentary elections are not likely before next spring.
The decree also barred the courts from dissolving the controversy-plagued assembly writing the new constitution. Several courts have been looking into lawsuits demanding the panel be disbanded.
Critics fear Mr Morsi and the Brotherhood are trying to marginalise women and minority Christians, infringe on personal liberties and even give Muslim clerics a say in lawmaking.
Liberal and Christian members withdrew from the assembly during the past week to protest what they say is the hijacking of the process by Mr Morsi’s allies.
The president has extended by two months, until February, the deadline for the assembly to produce a draft, apparently to give members more time to iron out their differences.
He also barred any court from dissolving the Islamist-led upper house of parliament, a largely toothless body that has also faced court cases.
The president made most of the changes on Thursday in a declaration amending an interim constitution that has been in effect since shortly after Mr Mubarak’s fall.
The moves come as Mr Morsi basks in lavish praise from US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for mediating an end to eight days of fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
Clinton was in Cairo on Wednesday, when she held extensive talks with Mr Morsi.
Mr Morsi not only holds executive power, he also has legislative authority after a previous court ruling just before he took office on June 30 dissolved the powerful lower house of parliament, which was led by the Brotherhood.
Thursday’s decisions were read on state television by his spokesman, Yasser Ali. In a throwback to the days of the authoritarian President Mubarak and his predecessors Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the television followed up with a slew of nationalist songs.