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Protesters and Police Clash After Egypt’s President Grants Himself New Powers

November 23, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: Demonstrations, clashes with the police, and tear gas in Tahrir Square, familiar scenes in Egypt nearly two years ago that led to the fall of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak. But, today, they were aimed at Egypt’s new leader.

In the coastal city of Alexandria, opponents set fire to the offices of President Mohammed Morsi’s political party, the Muslim Brotherhood.

There and elsewhere in Egypt today, the president’s critics and supporters clashed in the streets over his decree yesterday exempting himself from judicial review and giving him authority to take steps against — quote — “threats to the revolution.”

Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, took office in June. In recent days, he’s garnered worldwide praise for mediating a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Today, he told a supportive crowd outside the presidential palace in Cairo that granting himself sweeping powers was necessary to prevent figures from the old regime from halting progress.

PRESIDENT MOHAMMED MORSI, Egypt (through translator): I haven’t taken a decision to use it against anyone. To go against anyone is something that I could never be associated with or announcing that I am biased towards anyone. However, I must put myself on a clear path that will lead to the achievement of a clear goal.

JEFFREY BROWN: The president’s backers insisted the decree would be in effect only until a new constitution is approved.

MOHAMED ADEL, Egypt (through translator): Yes, he might be a dictator for the time being or might have unprecedented power throughout this period of two months, but, after that, these powers will be transferred to an elected parliament.

JEFFREY BROWN: But tens of thousands of anti-Morsi protesters rallied in Tahrir Square, the heart of last year’s popular revolution that led to end of the regime of Hosni Mubarak.

They threw rocks at riot police, who retaliated by firing tear gas canisters to disperse the crowds.

HAZEM MESHAABIN,Egypt: This is just a new era of dictatorship in Egypt. This is not what the revolution was about. The revolution was about stripping the president from all these unquestioned rights. And now there is just — we are way stepped back than where we were before.

JEFFREY BROWN: Among the protesters in Cairo were two men who ran against Mr. Morsi, Hamdeen Sabahi from the leftist Al-Karama party, and Constitution Party founder Mohamed ElBaradei, who tweeted yesterday that Morsi had appointed himself — quote — “a new pharaoh.”

In his decree, Morsi also held out the possibility of a second trial for Hosni Mubarak for the killings of protesters.