12:00 AM, November 24, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 24, 2012

Morsi 'power grab' angers opposition

Brotherhood offices torched; ElBaradei calls president new pharaoh

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Protesters torched Muslim Brotherhood offices yesterday, as supporters and opponents of President Morsi staged rival rallies across Egypt a day after he assumed sweeping powers.
The offices of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, were set ablaze in the canal cities of Ismailiya and Port Said, state television said.
An FJP official told AFP the party's office was also stormed in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, where clashes broke out between rival demonstrators.
In Cairo, an array of liberal and secular groups, including activists at the forefront of the protest movement that forced veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak from power early last year, planned to march on Tahrir Square, Cairo's iconic protest hub, to demonstrate against the "new pharaoh".
Morsi's backers led by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood gathered outside the presidential palace in north Cairo in a show of support for his decision to temporarily place his decisions above judicial oversight.
Morsi, who was feted on the international stage for his key role in bringing to an end the violence in Gaza, issued a decree on Thursday, which also ordered the retrial of former president Hosni Mubarak and officials and security force members accused of killing protesters during the country's revolution.
The decree read out by his spokesman Yasser Ali on state television said, "The president can issue any decision or measure to protect the revolution," it said. "The constitutional declarations, decisions and laws issued by the president are final and not subject to appeal."
The decree won immediate praise from Morsi's allies but stoked fears among secular-minded Egyptians that the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies aim to dominate the new Egypt.
Morsi already has both executive and legislative powers since the dissolution of the parliament's lower assembly, and has now added what appears to be a monopoly of judicial authority, placing himself beyond the courts while appointing a hand-picked prosecutor without consultation.
Leading secular politicians Mohamed ElBaradei accused Morsi on Twitter of having "usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh".
While some commentators have recognised the new powers appear to be aimed at removing the obstacle of a judiciary still dominated by remnants of the Mubarak era who have undermined progress towards a constitution, they are also alarmed by the decree.
In particular, critics point to Article 6, which states that the "president may take the necessary actions and measures to protect the country and the goals of the revolution" and places the president as the sovereign of the state, as he can "claim exception against all rules".
Some compared it to Anwar Sadat's use of a similar measure in 1979 that was used against opposition figures, writes The Guardian.
The decree appeared to remove any uncertainty still hanging over the fate of the assembly writing the constitution. The body has faced a raft of legal challenges from plaintiffs who dispute its legality.
Critics say its popular legitimacy had been further called into doubt by the withdrawal of many of its non-Islamist members, who had complained their voices were not being heard.
The constitution is a crucial element in Egypt's transition to democracy. New parliamentary elections will not be held until the document is completed and passed by a popular referendum.
The decree also gave the body an additional two months to complete its work, meaning the drafting process could stretch until February, pushing back elections.
A number of political groups joined to condemn the decree and said the president "robbed the people and institutions of all the rights and powers", in a statement issued late on Thursday night.
Among popular measures in the decree, however, is the decision to retry Mubarak, 84, who was sentenced to life in prison in June for failing to prevent killings that claimed the lives of some 800 people that occurred during the uprising that led to his fall in February last year and after.
Critics, including demonstrators who have been protesting in Cairo this week, have been angry about the widespread impunity enjoyed by many officials and security force members who have largely avoided justice for the killings of demonstrators.
The removal of the Mubarak-era chief prosecutor and his replacement was designed to meet these demands.
Morsi's opponents poured into Tahrir Square after the main weekly Muslim prayers.
They were expected to be joined by leading secular politicians Mohamed ElBaradei, a former UN nuclear watchdog chief, and Amr Mussa, a former foreign minister and Arab League chief.
ElBaradei denounced Morsi as a "new pharaoh," the same term of derision used against Mubarak when he was in power.
"Morsi is a 'temporary' dictator," read the banner headline in Friday's edition of independent daily Al-Masry Youm.

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