Egyptian Protests Turn Violent After President Grants Himself Sweeping Powers

Posted November 23rd, 2012 at 1:55 pm (UTC-5)
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Protesters in several Egyptian cities have attacked the offices of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, as rival pro- and anti-government groups demonstrate in Cairo about a new presidential decree.

The violence comes a day after Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi put himself above oversight and declared that his decisions cannot be appealed by the courts or any other authority. In a speech to supporters Friday at the presidential palace, Mr. Morsi said he wants to move Egypt forward as a stable and safe nation and does not want sole control of the country.

Thousands of opposition supporters, including liberal politician Mohamad ElBaradei, former head of the U.N. atomic energy agency, gathered in Tahrir Square on Friday to protest the president's decision, while police fired tear gas at the crowds. ElBaradei has accused the president of making himself a “new pharaoh” by taking on so much power.

In the cities of Port Said, Ismailia, and Alexandria, crowds of protesters lobbed stones and explosives and set fire to Muslim Brotherhood offices. In Alexandria, people were seen tossing papers and other objects out office windows, while a party banner hanging on the wall of a building had been ripped nearly in half. The protesters chanted, “The people want the fall of the regime.” At least a dozen people were injured.

Earlier reports said the Muslim Brotherhood offices in Suez were also burned, but state television later retracted that report.

Mr. Morsi's decree also bars Egypt's judiciary from dissolving the upper house of parliament and an assembly drafting a new constitution — two bodies dominated by Mr. Morsi's Islamist allies.

In addition, Mr. Morsi has ordered retrials of former officials who used violence in efforts to suppress last year's popular revolution against longtime president Hosni Mubarak.

A presidential spokesman said the moves were made to end a deadlock in Cairo on forming a new constitution and moving the country forward.

The president's action comes after he received international praise for mediating a Gaze cease-fire.

Egyptian courts have been examining cases demanding the dissolution of both assemblies. But Mr. Morsi's decree effectively neutralizes the judiciary system in favor of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood.

The announced retrials for those suspected of involvement in the killings of protesters during the 2011 uprising, could include a retrial of former president Hosni Mubarak. The ousted leader was sentenced to life in prison in June for failing to stop the killings. But he avoided convictions on more serious offenses of corruption and ordering the deadly crackdown, angering many Egyptians.

Other Mubarak-era officials and security personnel also have been acquitted on charges of killing protesters, prompting critics to accuse the top government prosecutor of mishandling the cases. In his decree Thursday, Mr. Morsi fired that prosecutor, Abdel-Maguid Mahmoud, a Mubarak appointee who had been in the post for many years. The decree retroactively limited Mahmoud's term to four years, bringing it to an immediate end.

President Morsi had tried to fire Mahmoud last month but was blocked by the courts. He named Talat Abdullah as the government's new general prosecutor.