By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi has told supporters that Egypt is on the path to “freedom and democracy,” one day after he assumed sweeping powers.
Morsi, addressing thousands of supporters outside the presidential palace in Cairo on November 23, said he was working for “political, social, and economic stability.”
Morsi — who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood and was installed in June after a presidential election — also said he was not against a “real and strong” opposition in Egypt.
Pro-reform activists have accused Morsi of seizing dictatorial powers and attacking the ideals of last year’s revolt, which ousted former President Hosni Mubarak after deadly clashes between democracy protesters and Egyptian security forces.
Protesters have reportedly set fire to Muslim Brotherhood offices in at least two Egyptian cities amid mounting anger over the president’s announcement.
The incidents, first reported by Egyptian television, came as Morsi’s supporters and opponents gathered for rival rallies nationwide one day after he announced on November 22 that his decisions may not be revoked by the courts or any other Egyptian authority.
Critics, including former UN nuclear watchdog chief and Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad El-Baradei, call Morsi’s move tantamount to a coup.
El-Baradei and prominent allies had called for the November 23 protests.
Reports said the offices of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, were torched in Ismailiya and Port Said. There were conflicting reports of a similar attack on offices in Suez.
Clashes between the two sides were reported in Alexandria.
The decree blocks the judiciary from hearing challenges to the president’s decisions and sets the stage for possible retrials in cases against Mubarak and his allies.
Mubarak, 84, has already been sentenced to life in prison.
Egyptian security and military forces were deployed outside key state institutions near Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo soon after the decrees were announced, with the country’s opposition calling for protesters to hit the streets.
The decree is to remain in force at least until a new constitution is adopted in a referendum and a new parliament is elected.
Even before the announcement, Islamists demonstrated in support of the president outside the Supreme Court, calling for the judiciary to be cleansed of officials linked to Mubarak.
El-Baradei said Morsi had appointed himself Egypt’s “new pharaoh” and “usurped all state powers.”
Morsi’s decree was issued days after he received international praise for helping mediate a cease-fire between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, prompting speculation that he felt more secure about withstanding domestic and international criticism of the move.