The 'new pharaoh' plunges Egypt back into turmoil

Violent protests sweep the country after the Islamist President grants himself far-reaching powers

Cairo

Violence broke out across Egypt last night as protesters reacted to the power grab by Mohamed Morsi. His party's offices were torched, while his opponents called the President a "dictator" and "pharaoh" who has now acquired more political might than the ousted leader, Hosni Mubarak.

There was fierce fighting in Alexandria following afternoon prayers, as thousands of opposing protesters hurled rocks and broken masonry at each other outside a mosque.

State television reported that mobs in a number of cities had set fire to the offices of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of Mr Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.

The group's headquarters in Suez, Port Said and Ismailia were all said to have been targets.

In Cairo, police fired tear gas at protesters after several thousand people joined an anti-Morsi demonstration in Tahrir Square.

Youths had been involved in clashes with police in Mohamed Mahmoud Street – scene of deadly riots a year ago – since Monday. But as enormous crowds filed into Tahrir Square, the violence appeared to be escalating.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the one-time presidential candidate who had previously negotiated a political truce with Mr Morsi, claimed that the President had appointed himself the "new pharaoh" following the constitutional declaration he issued on Wednesday.

"Morsi today usurped all state powers," he wrote on Twitter shortly after the Egyptian leader's surprise statement.

Mr ElBaradei added that the move was a "major blow" which could have "dire consequences".

Worrying political battle lines were developing in Cairo as huge groups of rival protesters staged separate rallies yesterday. Outside the Presidential Palace in the eastern Heliopolis district, thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members arrived to celebrate Mr Morsi's announcement – a move which grants him immunity from judicial oversight along with vague new powers to protect the "goals of the revolution".

Giving a speech to his supporters, Mr Morsi said the declaration had been made to safeguard the future of the nation. "We are, God willing, moving forward, and no one stands in our way," he said.

"Victory does not come without a clear plan and this is what I have."

In his decree, Mr Morsi also vowed to re-examine criminal cases against officials accused of killing protesters during the Egyptian uprising – an apparent sop to activists who remain outraged that so few police officers have been brought to justice over the past two years.

Yet as bewilderment turned to anger last night, several thousand protesters marched on Tahrir Square in scenes reminiscent of the January 2011 protests that eventually toppled President Mubarak.

Amid a sea of flags hoisted by Egypt's disparate secular and liberal opposition groups, opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood descended on Downtown Cairo chanting for "bread, freedom and the downfall of the murshid" – the Brotherhood's Supreme Guide.

"The Muslim Brotherhood wants the country to become like Iran," said Magda Maamoun, a 30-year-old IT worker, as she marched through the western Dokki district on her way to central Cairo. "It is a dictatorship under the name of religion."

In addition to the judicial immunity which Mr Morsi has granted himself, the declaration also prevents any court from disbanding Egypt's constituent assembly, an Islamist-dominated body tasked with drafting a new constitution.

The assembly has been working under the threat of dissolution due to a number of court cases examining its legitimacy.

It has also been crippled as a result of successive walkouts by secular and Christian members, many of whom object to the draft constitution's perceived Islamic bias and clauses regarding women's rights and sharia law.

Brotherhood officials have argued that Mr Morsi's decree was necessary to ensure Egypt's revolution does not grind to a halt as a result of fractious political infighting and sabotage by elements from the old regime.

It is a view which may find currency among some Egyptians, many of whom are more concerned about the price of bread and fuel than the minutiae of constitutional politics. Writing on Twitter, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman said that the President's decisions are "all directed towards achieving justice, ending corruption and fulfilling the goals of the #Jan25 revolution".

Yet critics say that Mr Morsi's arbitrary declaration may prove dangerously counter-productive.

"He now has more power than Hosni Mubarak," said Koert Debeuf, a representative of the EU Parliament based in Cairo. "The way to democracy cannot pass through dictatorship.

"There has been a danger of political chaos in Egypt. So in a certain way maybe he was trying to avoid that by issuing the declaration. But by doing so he has created even more chaos."

Life and Style
tech
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + Pay between ?110 - ?130 Day: Randstad Education Cardiff:...

SAP Deployment Manager

£480 per day + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Deployment Manager-Ta...

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Consultant

£50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Urgently seeking a Dynam...

Test Lead - Financial Reporting - Banking - London

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Test Lead, London, Banking, Financial Reporting, ...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game