Flames burn around a police vehicle after protesters threw
a molotov cocktail at it during clashes at Tahrir square in
Cairo. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi's decision to assume
sweeping powers caused fury amongst his opponents and prompted
violent clashes in central Cairo and other cities.
Police fired tear gas near Cairo's Tahrir Square, heart of
the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, where thousands
demanded Mursi quit and accused him of launching a "coup".
There were violent protests in Alexandria, Port Said and
Opponents accused Mursi, who has issued a decree that puts
his decisions above legal challenge until a new parliament is
elected, of being the new Mubarak and hijacking the
"The people want to bring down the regime," shouted
protesters in Tahrir, echoing a chant used in the uprising
that forced Mubarak to step down. "Get out, Mursi," they
chanted, along with "Mubarak tell Mursi, jail comes after the
Mursi's aides said the presidential decree was intended to
speed up a protracted transition that has been hindered by
legal obstacles but Mursi's rivals condemned him as an
autocratic pharaoh who wanted to impose his Islamist vision
"I am for all Egyptians. I will not be biased against any son
of Egypt," Mursi said on a stage outside the presidential
palace, adding that he was working for social and economic
stability and the rotation of power.
"Opposition in Egypt does not worry me, but it has to be real
and strong," he said, seeking to placate his critics and
telling Egyptians that he was committed to the revolution.
"Go forward, always forward ... to a new Egypt."
Buoyed by accolades from around the world for mediating a
truce between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip, Mursi on
Thursday ordered that an Islamist-dominated assembly writing
the new constitution could not be dissolved by legal
"Mursi a 'temporary' dictator," was the headline in the
independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.
Mursi, an Islamist whose roots are in the Muslim Brotherhood,
also gave himself wide powers that allowed him to sack the
unpopular general prosecutor and opened the door for a
retrial for Mubarak and his aides.
The president's decree aimed to end the logjam and push
Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation, more quickly
along its democratic path, the presidential spokesman said.
"President Mursi said we must go out of the bottleneck
without breaking the bottle," Yasser Ali told Reuters.
The president's decree said any decrees he issued while no
parliament sat could not be challenged, moves that
consolidated his power but look set to polarise Egypt
further, threatening more turbulence in a nation at the heart
of the Arab Spring.
The turmoil has weighed heavily on Egypt's faltering economy
that was thrown a lifeline this week when a preliminary deal
was reached with the International Monetary Fund for a $4.8
billion loan. But it also means unpopular economic measures.
In Alexandria, north of Cairo, protesters ransacked an office
of the Brotherhood's political party, burning books and
chairs in the street. Supporters of Mursi and opponents
clashed elsewhere in the city, leaving 12 injured.
A party building was also attacked by stone-throwing
protesters in Port Said, and demonstrators in Suez threw
petrol bombs that burned banners outside the party building.
Mursi's decree is bound to worry Western allies, particularly
the United States, a generous benefactor to Egypt's army,
which praised Egypt for its part in bringing Israelis and
Palestinians to a ceasefire on Wednesday.
The West may become concerned about measures that, for
example, undermine judicial independence. The European Union
urged Mursi to respect the democratic process.
"We are very concerned about the possible huge ramifications
of this declaration on human rights and the rule of law in
Egypt," Rupert Colville, spokesman for the U.N. Human Rights
Commissioner Navi Pillay, said at the United Nations in
The United States has been concerned about the fate of what
was once a close ally under Mubarak, who preserved Egypt's
1979 peace treaty with Israel. The Gaza deal has reassured
Washington but the deepening polarisation of the nation will
be a worry.
"The decree is basically a coup on state institutions and the
rule of law that is likely to undermine the revolution and
the transition to democracy," said Mervat Ahmed, an
independent activist in Tahrir protesting against the decree.
"I worry Mursi will be another dictator like the one before
Leading liberal Mohamed ElBaradei, who joined other
politicians on Thursday night to demand the decree was
withdrawn, wrote on his Twitter account that Mursi had
"usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt's new
Almost two years after Mubarak was toppled and about five
months since Mursi took office, propelled to the post by the
Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt has no permanent constitution,
which must be in place before new parliamentary elections are
The last parliament, which sat for the first time earlier
this year, was dissolved after a court declared it void. It
was dominated by the Brotherhood's political party.
An assembly drawing up the constitution has yet to complete
its work. Many liberals, Christians and others have walked
out accusing the Islamists who dominate it of ignoring their
voices over the extent that Islam should be enshrined in the
Opponents call for the assembly to be scrapped and remade.
Mursi's decree protects the existing one and extends the
deadline for drafting a document by two months, pushing it
back to February, further delaying a new parliamentary
Explaining the rationale behind the moves, the presidential
spokesman said: "This means ending the period of
constitutional instability to arrive at a state with a
written constitution, an elected president and parliament."