November 23, 2012

Clashes in Egypt as Morsi defends new powers

The violence reflects the increasingly dangerous polarization in Egypt over what course it will take nearly two years after the fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Aya Batrawy and Maggie Michael / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Protesters storm an office of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice party and set fires in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, Egypt on Friday. State TV says Morsi opponents also set fire to his party's offices in the Suez Canal cities of Suez, Port Said and Ismailia.

AP

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Egyptian protesters opposed to President Mohammed Morsi try to breach a building used by Morsi supporters during clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo on Friday.

AP

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 Morsi'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 organized that uprising say Morsi'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 ElBaradei, former head of the U.N.'s nuclear agency, called Morsi a "new pharaoh." The president's one-time ally, the April 6 movement, warned that the polarization could bring a "civil war."

One of Morsi's aides, Coptic Christian thinker Samer Marqous, resigned to protest the "undemocratic" decree.

"This is a crime against Egypt and a declaration of the end of January revolution to serve the interest of the Muslim Brotherhood dictatorship," wrote Ibrahim Eissa, chief editor of daily Al-Tahrir. "The revolution is over and the new dictator has killed her. His next step is to throw Egypt in prison."

In front of the presidential palace, Muslim Brotherhood supporters and other Islamists changed "the people support the president's decree" and pumped their fists in the air.

"God will humiliate those who are attacking our president, Mohammed Morsi," said ultraconservative cleric Mohammed Abdel-Maksoud. "Whoever insults the sultan, God humiliates him," he added.

Outside the capital, the rival groups clashed.

State TV reported that protesters burned offices of the Brotherhood's political arm in the Suez Canal cities of Suez, Ismalia and Port Said, east of Cairo.

In the southern city of Assiut, ultraconservative Islamists of the Salafi tend and former Jihadists outnumbered liberal and leftists, such as the April 6 youth groups. The two sides exchanged insults and briefly scuffled with firsts and stones.

With his decrees, Morsi was playing to widespread discontent with the judiciary. Many — even Brotherhood opponents — are troubled by the presence of so many Mubarak era-judges and prosecutors, who they say have failed to strongly enough prosecute the old regime's top officials and security forces for crimes including the killing of protesters.

In his decrees, Morsi fired the controversial prosecutor general and created "revolutionary" judicial bodies to put Mubarak and some of his top aides on trial a second time for protester killings. Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison for failing to stop police from shooting at protesters, but many were angry he was not found guilty of actually ordering the crackdown during the uprising against his rule.

In his speech Friday. Morsi told supporters that his decisions were meant to stop those "taking shelter under judiciary."

He said the courts had been about to disband the upper house of parliament.

"This is minority but they represent a threat to the revolution goals," he said. "It is my duty if I see this, to go forward along the path of the revolution and prevent any blockage."

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