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Mohammed El Baradei (second left), Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, walks next to former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi (third left), during a rally on Mursi decrees, in Garden City, Cairo, yesterday. RIGHT: Protesters attack the logo of Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party after ransacking the party’s office in Alexandria.
CAIRO: Thousands of opponents of Egypt’s Islamist president clashed with his supporters in cities across the country yesterday, burning several offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, in the most violent and widespread protests since Mohammed Mursi came to power, sparked by his move to grant himself sweeping powers.
The violence reflected the increasingly dangerous polarisation in Egypt over what course it will take nearly two years after the fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Critics of Mursi accused him of seizing dictatorial powers with his decrees a day earlier that make him immune to judicial oversight and give him authority to take any steps against “threats to the revolution”.
Yesterday, 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.”
President insisted Egypt was on the path to “freedom and democracy”.
“Political stability, social stability and economic stability are what I want and that is what I am working for,” he said.
“I have always been, and still am, and will always be, God willing, with the pulse of the people, what the people want, with clear legitimacy,” he said from a podium before thousands of supporters.
Clashes between his opponents and members of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood erupted in several cities. In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, anti-Mursi 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 Mursi. 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 on January 25, 2011.
Protesters chanted, “Leave, leave” and “Mursi 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 Mursi. “This decision shows how insecure and weak he is because he knows there is no consensus.”
Frustration had been growing for months with Mursi, Egypt’s first freely elected president who came to office in June. Critics say the Muslim Brotherhood, from which he hails, has been moving to monopolise power and that he has done little to tackle mounting economic problems and continuing insecurity, much less carry out deeper reforms.
Mursi’s supporters, in turn, say he has faced constant push-back from Mubarak loyalists and from the courts, where loyalists have a strong presence. The courts have been considering a string of lawsuits demanding the dissolution of the Islamist-dominated assembly writing the next constitution. The courts already dissolved a previous version of the assembly and the Brotherhood-led lower house of parliament.
Threats to revolution
On Thursday, Mursi unilaterally issued amendments to the interim constitution that made all his decisions immune to judicial review or court orders. He gave similar protection to the constitutional panel and the upper house of parliament, which is dominated by the Brotherhood and also faced possible disbanding by the courts.
Mursi, who holds legislative as well as executive powers, also declared his power to take any steps necessary to prevent “threats to the revolution,” public safety or the workings of state institutions. Rights activists warned that the vague — and unexplained — wording could give him even greater power than those Mubarak held under emergency laws throughout his rule.
The decree would be in effect until a new constitution is approved and parliamentary elections are held, not expected until the Spring.
The state media described Mursi’s decree as a “corrective revolution,” and the official radio station aired phone calls from listeners praising the president’s decree. The president’s supporters cast the decrees as the next logical step to consolidate the gains of the 2011 uprising that overthrew Mubarak, and the only way to break through the political deadlock preventing the adoption of a new constitution.
But many veteran activists who organised that uprising say Mursi’s decree puts him in the same category as Mubarak, who argued his autocratic powers were necessary only to shepherd Egypt to a new democratic future.
Mohamed El Baradei, former head of the UN’s nuclear agency, called Mursi a “new pharaoh.” The president’s one-time ally, the April 6 movement, warned that the polarisation could bring a “civil war.”
One of Mursi’s aides, Coptic Christian thinker Samer Marqous, resigned to protest the “undemocratic” decree. “God will humiliate those who are attacking our president, Mohammed Mursi,” said cleric Mohammed Abdel Maksoud. “Whoever insults the sultan, God humiliates him,” he added.AP/AFP