Morsi 'coup' divides Egypt

CAIRO: Supporters and opponents of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi called rival demonstrations on Friday after the Islamist leader assumed sweeping powers in what critics dubbed a "coup".

  • Published: 23/11/2012 at 06:00 PM
  • Newspaper section: breakingnews

Thousands of supporters of President Mohammed Morsi celebrate in front of the Egyptian high court in Cairo on Thursday night after Morsi assumed sweeping powers. AFP

An array of liberal and secular groups, including activists at the forefront of the protest movement that forced veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak from power early last year, planned to march on Tahrir Square, Cairo's iconic protest hub, to demonstrate against the "new pharaoh".

Morsi's backers led by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood gathered outside the presidential palace in north Cairo in a show of support for his decision to temporarily place his decisions above judicial oversight.

"The people support the president's decisions," the crowd chanted.

Morsi, fresh from a diplomatic triumph after helping work out the Gaza-Israel ceasefire, was considering an address to the nation defending his decision later in the day, aides said.

His liberal opponents were set to march to Tahrir Square after the main weekly Muslim prayers, led by leading secular politicians Mohamed El Baradei, a former UN nuclear watchdog chief, and Amr Mussa, a former foreign minister and Arab League chief.

"This is a coup against legitimacy. ... We are calling on all Egyptians to protest in all of Egypt's squares on Friday," said Sameh Ashour, head of the lawyers' syndicate, in a joint news conference with El Baradei and Mussa.

ElBaradei denounced Morsi as a "new pharaoh", the same term of derision used against Mubarak when he was in power.

"Morsi is a 'temporary' dictator," read the banner headline in Friday's edition of independent daily Al-Masry Youm.

The Islamist president assumed sweeping powers on Thursday in a decree read out by his spokesman Yasser Ali on state television.

"The president can issue any decision or measure to protect the revolution," it said.

"The constitutional declarations, decisions and laws issued by the president are final and not subject to appeal."

Morsi also sacked prosecutor general Abdel Meguid Mahmud, whom he failed to oust last month, amid strong misgivings among the president's supporters about the failure to secure convictions of more members of the old regime.

He appointed Talaat Ibrahim Abdallah to replace Mahmud and, within minutes of the announcement, the new prosecutor was shown on television being sworn in.

Abdullah later issued a brief statement on state television, pledging to "work day and night to achieve the goals of the revolution."

In his pronouncement, the president also ordered "new investigations and retrials" in cases involving the deaths of protesters, a decision that could military top brass and other former Mubarak regime officials.

The declaration is aimed at "cleansing state institutions" and "destroying the infrastructure of the old regime," the president's spokesman said.

A senior official of the Justice and Freedom Party, the Brotherhood's political arm, said Morsi's decision was necessary to guarantee the revolution was on course.

"We could not find any legal avenue to pinpoint and prosecute those in the interior ministry who were responsible for killings," Gehad Haddad told AFP.

He said there had been a string of acquittals of interior ministry officials, evidence was withheld in cases, investigations had been weak and many had not been brought to trial over the killings of hundreds of protesters during and since the uprising -- a view that secular protesters would agree with.

"The avenues we are taking are born of necessity, not choice," he said.

About 850 protesters were killed in clashes with security forces or Mubarak loyalists during last year's uprising. Only the ousted president and his interior minister Habib al-Adly have been convicted over the deaths.

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