Cairo: President Mohamed Morsi insisted on Friday that Egypt is on the path to “freedom and democracy” after granting himself sweeping powers, which sparked clashes between his supporters and foes and raised concerns abroad.
“Political stability, social stability and economic stability are what I want and that is what I am working for,” he told a gathering of fellow Islamists outside the presidential palace.
Morsi opponents began a one-week sit-in in Tahrir Square — the symbolic heart of protests that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year — and called for a mass protest on Tuesday.
Clashes erupted between police and protesters near the square, with demonstrators setting fire to a police truck, witnesses said.
And violent confrontations erupted between Morsi supporters and foes in the canal city of Suez and the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, where protesters ransacked the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, from which the president was elected in June.
Under a declaration read out on television on Thursday, the president “can issue any decision or measure to protect the revolution… The constitutional declarations, decisions and laws issued by the president are final and not subject to appeal.”
The move is a blow to the pro-democracy movement that ousted Mubarak, and sparked fears that Islamists will be further ensconced in power.
It also raised international concerns, with the United States calling for calm and urging all parties to work together.
“The decisions and declarations announced on November 22 raise concerns for many Egyptians and for the international community,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
“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,” her statement added.
In Brussels, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said “it is of utmost importance that the democratic process be completed in accordance with the commitments undertaken by the Egyptian leadership.”
Rights watchdog Amnesty International slammed Morsi’s new powers, which “trample the rule of law and herald a new era of repression.”
Morsi’s backers, led by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, gathered outside the presidential palace in northern Cairo in a show of support for the president’s move.
“The people support the president’s decisions,” the crowd chanted.
On Thursday, Morsi undercut a hostile judiciary — which had been considering whether to scrap an Islamist-dominated panel drawing up a new constitution — and stripped judges of the right to rule on the case or to challenge his decrees.
The decision effectively places the president above judicial oversight until a new constitution is ratified.
Morsi’s opponents poured into Tahrir Square after the main weekly Muslim prayers, joined by leading secular politicians Mohamed ElBaradei, a former UN nuclear watchdog chief, and Amr Mussa, a ex-foreign minister and Arab League chief.
Hesham Sallam, a political analyst at Georgetown University, said Morsi’s decisions “are clearly aimed at appropriating revolutionary legitimacy and using it to strengthen the position of the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled presidency.”
“The decrees effectively render the presidential decisions final and not subject to the review of judicial authorities, which marks a return to Mubarak-style presidency, without even the legal cosmetics that the previous regime used to employ to justify its authoritarian ways,” he told AFP.
A spokesman for the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), headed by Morsi before his election, said the president’s decree was necessary to cut short the turbulent transitional period.
“We need to move things in the right direction,” said Murad Ali.
“We need stability. That’s not going to happen if we go back again to allowing the judges, who have personal reasons, to dissolve the constituent assembly in order to prolong the transitional phase.”
Morsi also sacked prosecutor general Abdel Meguid Mahmud, whom he failed to oust last month, amid strong misgivings among the president’s supporters about the failure to secure convictions of more members of the old regime.
The new prosecutor will open new investigations into the acquitted officials.
A senior FJP official said Morsi’s decision was necessary to guarantee the revolution was on course.
“We could not find any legal avenue to pinpoint and prosecute those in the interior ministry who were responsible for killings,” Gehad Haddad told AFP.
Some 850 protesters were killed in clashes with security forces or Mubarak loyalists during last year’s uprising.