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Clashes in Egypt as Morsy defends new powers

AP
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, Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. State TV says Morsi opponents also set fire to his party's offices in the Suez Canal cities of Suez, Port Said and Ismailia. Opponents and supporters of Morsi clashed across Egypt on Friday, the day after the president granted himself sweeping new powers that critics fear can allow him to be a virtual dictator. (AP Photo/Amira Mortada, El Shorouk Newspaper) EGYPT OUT

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Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, 7:58 a.m.
 

CAIRO — Tens of thousands of Egyptians angered by President Mohamed Morsy's stunning power grab rallied in Cairo and other cities on Friday, clashing with police.

A day earlier, Morsy issued a decree giving him near-absolute power.

Foes accused him of creating a dictatorship rivaling that of Hosni Mubarak, the Arab nation's president of three decades who was deposed by a public uprising in February 2011.

Some denounced Morsy as “the new Pharaoh.”

Members of Morsy's party, the Islamic-based Muslim Brotherhood, demonstrated in support of him at the presidential palace. Brotherhood officials said the power-grab is a temporary step to lead the country until a new constitution is written and adopted.

As separate anti-Morsy marches converged on the capital's Tahrir Square, protesters battled police on side streets, some under a sign declaring, “It is forbidden for the Brotherhood to enter.”

Protesters reportedly torched the Brotherhood's political-wing offices in Alexandria and other cities, and street fights erupted between pro- and anti-Morsy forces.

“This new decree basically gives Morsy absolute power without any other institutional oversight, and this is very dangerous,” said Ahmed Showk, a journalist protesting in Tahrir Square.

Showk said he hopes the large protest there would unify leftist, liberal and other anti-Brotherhood factions.

Morsy decreed that no court can overturn his decisions — giving him control over the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

Samir Morcos, a Coptic Christian and one of four presidential advisers, resigned on Friday, saying he was not consulted before Morsy's decree.

Protesters waving the liberal Social Democrat Party flag chanted, “There is no freedom without blood!”

Others shouted, “The people want the downfall of the regime!” as smoke and tear gas rose overhead.

Loud cheers erupted when Mohamed El Baradei, a former diplomat and director of the United Nation's nuclear watchdog agency, and former leftist presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi arrived in Tahrir Square. Protesters lofted both on the crowd's shoulders, chanting, “One hand!” to indicate solidarity.

El Baradei has frequently warned against a presidency without a constitution.

Accountant Ahmed Muhammed said Morsy's decree was an “international conspiracy … arranged by the United States, Qatar and Israel to turn over the Sinai to the Palestinians.”

Standing in the crowd, he accused President Obama of supporting “a dictator.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other U.S. officials have praised Morsy in recent days for his role in brokering a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group that rules Gaza. The two sides traded deadly air and rocket attacks for two weeks.

Some critics say the Obama administration has been too “effusive” in its praise of Morsy.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement that the edicts raise “concerns” for many Egyptians and for the international community, adding that the country's revolution had aimed in part to prevent too much power from being concentrated in one person's hands.

The United States urged “all Egyptians to resolve their differences over these important issues peacefully and through democratic dialogue,” she said.

Amnesty International, the London-based rights group, said Morsi's new powers “trample the rule of law and herald a new era of repression.”

Morsy told about 50,000 Brotherhood followers massed at the presidential palace that anti-Morsy protesters are “paid thugs” of the Mubarak regime.

He insisted his decree would “restore order” and cast himself as a revolutionary.

“The Egyptian people are rising, but our enemies outside and a few remnants of the past regime do not want us to!” he shouted.

The crowd chanted back for “the implementation of Allah's law.”

“Morsy sidelined the judiciary and has executive and legislative powers,” said Showk, the journalist protesting in Tahrir Square. “This essentially makes him a dictator. It is beyond me how this can work with any democratic transition.”

Nearby, a man angrily shouted that Morsy “did a coup.”

“I am here for the future of Egypt and for the future of my children,” said Sherine Abdel Dayim, 32, a homemaker who joined the Tahrir Square protest. “The days of Mubarak were so much better than these days.”

“We are fed up with what is going on. It is going in a very bad way,” said Marianne Khoury, a documentary filmmaker in the square. “It gives all the power to Morsy and is against the democratic transition.”

Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review'sforeign correspondent. Email her at bhiel@tribweb.com.

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