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Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi defended his latest decree granting himself sweeping powers before supporters in Cairo as anti-Morsi demonstrators set fire to Muslim Brotherhood offices in cities across Egypt on Friday.
As enraged demonstrators torched Muslim Brotherhood offices in several Egyptian cities, a defiant Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi defended his recent decree granting himself sweeping powers before a crowd of supporters outside the presidential palace in Cairo Friday.
"Political stability, social stability and economic stability are what I want and that is what I am working for," said Morsi. "I have always been, and still am, and will always be, God willing, with the pulse of the people, what the people want, with clear legitimacy" he said from a podium before thousands of supporters.
Morsi’s speech came a day after he issued a presidential decree stating that any challenges to his decrees, laws and decisions were banned.
Reacting to the decree, thousands of demonstrators gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday, responding to calls by Egyptian opposition leaders for a “million-man march” to protest against what they called a “coup” by the Islamist president.
Reporting from Tahrir Square, FRANCE 24’s Alexander Turnbull said the crowds started pouring into Cairo’s most symbolic square in the afternoon and that the numbers kept swelling as the Friday noon prayers ended.
“They’re furious about Morsi’s new far-reaching powers,” explained Turnbull. “They accuse him of placing himself above the judiciary.”
At the same time, supporters of the Egyptian president gathered outside Cairo’s Heliopolis Presidential Palace, some of them holding photographs of Morsi.
The rival demonstrations – which took place in several Egyptian cities Friday – exposed the deep divisions in the world’s most populous Arab nation five months after Morsi was elected with a 51% sliver of a majority.
Clashes between pro-and anti-Morsi demonstrators broke out in the northern port city of Alexandria, as well as Port Said and Ismailia. Offices of the Freedom and Justice Party – the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood – were attacked in several cities – including the second-largest city of Alexandria.
International community concerned about Egypt’s ‘democratic process’
Morsi’s latest decree has raised serious concerns among the international community.
In a statement released Friday, the European Union urged Morsi to respect the democratic process.
"It is of utmost importance that democratic process be completed in accordance with the commitments undertaken by the Egyptian leadership," said the statement issued by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s office.
A spokesman for UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay also said the organisation was “very concerned about the possible huge ramifications of this declaration on human rights and the rule of law in Egypt".
The decree came a day after Morsi won high praise from the international community for his brokering of the Israel-Hamas ceasefire, which ended eight days of fierce fighting that killed more than 160 Gazans and six Israelis.
All eyes on Morsi’s handling of judiciary
Among Egypt’s secular opposition groups, there was mounting alarm over Morsi’s declaration that no court could dissolve the country’s Constituent Assembly, which is drawing up a new Egyptian constitution.
The rewriting of the new constitution has been a controversial issue, with most non-Islamist members quitting the Constituent Assembly – including representatives of the Coptic Christian Church and the April 6 Youth Movement, which played an influential role in the 2011 ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak.
Reacting to the announcement late Thursday, prominent Egyptian opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei accused Morsi of usurping authority and becoming a "new pharaoh".