Morsi’s decree sparks protests across Egypt

Cross posted from The National.

Protesters run from riot police during clashes at Tahrir square in Cairo on Friday.

Protesters run from riot police during clashes at Tahrir square in Cairo on Friday. Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters

CAIRO // Thousands of Egyptians rallied against the president, Mohammed Morsi, and torched Muslim Brotherhood offices across the country yesterday in a show of anger at the sweeping powers he has decreed for himself.

Supporters and opponents clashed across the country in violence that left 100 people injured.

But in an address to thousands of his supporters outside the presidential palace, Mr Morsi insisted he was steering Egypt towards “political stability, social stability and economic stability”.

“All the revolution might be in danger by those still loyal to the old regime,” he told them. “If I see my country and Egyptians are in danger, I will act.”

Mr Morsi lashed out at protesters on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, just off Tahrir, where violent confrontations between anti-government youth and police raged for a fifth consecutive day. He described them as “paid thugs”.

Liberal and secular groups massed in Tahrir Square and across the country to protest against decrees giving Mr Morsi power to operate without judicial oversight and insulate the Islamist-dominated constitutional assembly from legal challenges.

In Cairo, thousands of young men threw rocks and the occasional Molotov cocktail at police positioned behind the walls of a local private school and inside residential buildings. They responded with tear gas and birdshot.

The Egyptian health ministry reported 16 people hurt, and the official Mena news agency reported eight policemen were seriously injured by Molotov cocktails.

A banner hung above the entrance to the street from the square declaring: “No entry to the Brotherhood.”

The offices of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Brotherhood’s political arm, were also burnt in the cities of Alexandria, Ismailiya and Port Said, according to state television, as the protests spread across the country.

Egypt’s divided opposition, which heeded calls from the country’s Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, and former presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabbahi and Amr Moussa, for a protest after Friday prayers.

The 6th of April Youth Movement, which played a central role in the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year, had a visible presence in Tahrir.

One member, Ahmed Mohamed, wearing the group’s trademark black headband, said Mr Morsi’s new powers reflected Egypt’s transformation into “the Muslim Brotherhood’s country”.

Many others said they had formerly supported, or at least tolerated, Mr Morsi’s presidency but had grown alarmed by what they called his dictatorial tendencies.

Amr Tolba, 40, a salesman, said he had voted for Mr Morsi in the June presidential run-off and this was his first political demonstration since the revolution.

“Today for the first time, you will see people like me,” Mr Tolba said.

“I was concentrating on my job, my profession. But now I am here to protest a dictator that is coming up.”

Mr Morsi’s backers, led by the Brotherhood, gathered outside the presidential palace in a show of support for his decrees. “The people support the president’s decisions,” the crowd chanted.

A branch office of the FJP was set on fire in Alexandria and protesters were heading to the group’s main office in the Mediterranean city’s Sidi Gaber neighbourhood, security officials said. “The situation in Alexandria is tense and security forces are eager to exercise self-restraint and maintain security and protect vital establishments,” said Gen Abdelmawgud Lutfi, the head of Alexandria security.

In the southern city of Assiut, ultraconservative Salafis outnumbered liberal and leftists, such as the April 6 youth groups. The two sides exchanged insults and briefly scuffled.

Hundreds also took to the streets of the Red Sea resort city of Sharm El Sheikh against Mr Morsi’s declaration, chanting: “No to merging the revolution with authoritarianism.”

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