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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee