Demonstrations have erupted around Egypt against President Mohamed Morsi's controversial constitutional changes. Morsi defended his actions, saying he was putting the country on the path to "freedom and democracy."
Protestors torched Muslim Brotherhood offices across Egypt Friday in demonstrations against Morsi's new claims to power, local media reported. Opponents say the president's growing power made him a "dictator".
On Thursday Morsi had decreed a series of constitutional amendments that solidify his grasp on power in Egypt. His detractors then labeled him the "new pharaoh." Among the changes, Morsi stripped the judiciary of the right to rule on his actions, effectively placing himself above the courts.
Muslim Brotherhood offices torched
Offices of the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), were set alight Friday in Cairo, Alexandria and the canal city of Port Said.
Events turned violent in several cities, including Alexandria, where Morsi detractors clashed with groups demonstrating in support of the president.
Thousands of protestors, made up of a variety of liberal and secular groups, filled Tahrir Square, the site of the January 25 revolution last year that toppled longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak. They demanded that Morsi step down from office, and accused him of staging a "coup."
"Down with Morsi Mubarak," they chanted, equating the current president to Egypt's former authoritarian ruler.
"Morsi a 'temporary dictator'" was the headline in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm.
Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading liberal politician in the country, wrote on social media website Twitter Thursday that Morsi had "ursurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh."
Pro-Islamists also gathered to back Morsi, demonstrating outside the presidential palace in North Cairo. "These people support the president's decisions," chanted the crowd.
The protestors comprised mainly Muslim Brother and FJP members, as well as some Salafist groups, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported.
Supporters said Morsi's reforms were only temporary, and were aimed at stopping Mubarak-era lawmakers still in power from blocking new changes. They said the changes were necessary to bring Egypt's post-Mubarak transition to a close, and prevent further delays.
New presidential powers
In addition to eliminating judicial oversight, Morsi also decreed that the Islamist-dominated assembly drafting the new constitution cannot be dissolved.
The decrees are set to expire in February of next year, when the new constitution is due to be approved.
Addressing his a rally of his supporters in Cairo Friday, Morsi said his actions were "aimed at achieving political and social stability."
"I have always been, and still am, and always will be, God willing, the pulse of the people, what the people want, with clear legitimacy," he said.
The US State Department criticized the concentration of power in Egypt, saying it raises concern for its citizens and the international community.
"One of the aspirations of the revolution was to ensure that power would not be overly concentrated in the hands of any one person or institution," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who did not mention Morsi by name.
"The current constitutional vacuum in Egypt can only be resolved by the adoption of a constitution that includes checks and balances, and respects fundamental freedoms, individual rights, and the rule of law consistent with Egypt's international commitments," said Nuland, who encouraged the Egyptian people to resolve their differences peacefully and through democratic dialogue.
dr/ipj (AFP, Reuters dpa, AP)
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