* Mursi fresh from accolades over Gaza truce
* Decree threatens new turmoil at heart of Arab Spring
* Rally in Tahrir Square demand Mursi quit
* Mursi responds to critics, says working for rotation of
* Violent protests in Alexandria, Port Said, Suez
By Edmund Blair and Marwa Awad
CAIRO, Nov 23 Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi's
decision to assume sweeping powers caused fury amongst his
opponents and prompted violent clashes in central Cairo and
other cities on Friday.
Police fired tear gas near Cairo's Tahrir Square, heart of
the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, where thousands
demanded Mursi quit and accused him of launching a "coup".
Angry youth hurled rocks at security forces and burned a police
There were also violent protests in Alexandria, Port Said
Opponents accused Mursi, who on Thursday issued a decree
that puts his decisions above legal challenge until a new
parliament is elected, of being the new Mubarak and hijacking
"The people want to bring down the regime," shouted
protesters in Tahrir, echoing a chant used in the uprising that
forced Mubarak to step down. "Get out, Mursi," they chanted,
along with "Mubarak tell Mursi, jail comes after the throne."
The United States, the European Union and the United Nations
expressed concern at Mursi's move.
Mursi's aides said the presidential decree was intended to
speed up a protracted transition that has been hindered by legal
obstacles but Mursi's rivals condemned him as an autocratic
pharaoh who wanted to impose his Islamist vision on Egypt.
"I am for all Egyptians. I will not be biased against any
son of Egypt," Mursi said on a stage outside the presidential
palace, adding that he was working for social and economic
stability and the rotation of power.
"Opposition in Egypt does not worry me, but it has to be
real and strong," he said, seeking to placate his critics and
telling Egyptians that he was committed to the revolution. "Go
forward, always forward ... to a new Egypt."
Buoyed by accolades from around the world for mediating a
truce between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip, Mursi on
Thursday ordered that an Islamist-dominated assembly writing the
new constitution could not be dissolved by legal challenges.
"Mursi a 'temporary' dictator," was the headline in the
independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.
Mursi, an Islamist whose roots are in the Muslim
Brotherhood, also gave himself wide powers that allowed him to
sack the unpopular general prosecutor and opened the door for a
retrial for Mubarak and his aides.
The president's decree aimed to end the logjam and push
Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation, more quickly along
its democratic path, the presidential spokesman said.
"President Mursi said we must go out of the bottleneck
without breaking the bottle," Yasser Ali told Reuters.
TURBULENCE AND TURMOIL
The president's decree said any decrees he issued while no
parliament sat could not be challenged, moves that consolidated
his power but look set to polarise Egypt further, threatening
more turbulence in a nation at the heart of the Arab Spring.
The turmoil has weighed heavily on Egypt's faltering economy
that was thrown a lifeline this week when a preliminary deal was
reached with the International Monetary Fund for a $4.8 billion
loan. But it also means unpopular economic measures.
In Alexandria, north of Cairo, protesters ransacked an
office of the Brotherhood's political party, burning books and
chairs in the street. Supporters of Mursi and opponents clashed
elsewhere in the city, leaving 12 injured.
A party building was also attacked by stone-throwing
protesters in Port Said, and demonstrators in Suez threw petrol
bombs that burned banners outside the party building.
Although Washington praised Egypt for its part in bringing
Israelis and Palestinians to a ceasefire on Wednesday, it
expressed concern about Mursi's move.
"The decisions and declarations announced on November 22
raise concerns for many Egyptians and for the international
community," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in
The United States has been concerned about the fate of what
was once a close ally under Mubarak, who preserved Egypt's 1979
peace treaty with Israel.
The European Union urged Mursi to respect the democratic
process, while the United Nations expressed fears about human
"We are very concerned about the possible huge ramifications
of this declaration on human rights and the rule of law in
Egypt," Rupert Colville, spokesman for the U.N. Human Rights
Commissioner Navi Pillay, said at the United Nations in Geneva.
"The decree is basically a coup on state institutions and
the rule of law that is likely to undermine the revolution and
the transition to democracy," said Mervat Ahmed, an independent
activist in Tahrir protesting against the decree. "I worry Mursi
will be another dictator like the one before him."
Leading liberal Mohamed ElBaradei, who joined other
politicians on Thursday night to demand the decree was
withdrawn, wrote on his Twitter account that Mursi had "usurped
all state powers and appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh".
Almost two years after Mubarak was toppled and about five
months since Mursi took office, propelled to the post by the
Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt has no permanent constitution, which
must be in place before new parliamentary elections are held.
The last parliament, which sat for the first time earlier
this year, was dissolved after a court declared it void. It was
dominated by the Brotherhood's political party.
An assembly drawing up the constitution has yet to complete
its work. Many liberals, Christians and others have walked out
accusing the Islamists who dominate it of ignoring their voices
over the extent that Islam should be enshrined in the new state.
Opponents call for the assembly to be scrapped and remade.
Mursi's decree protects the existing one and extends the
deadline for drafting a document by two months, pushing it back
to February, further delaying a new parliamentary election.
Explaining the rationale behind the moves, the presidential
spokesman said: "This means ending the period of constitutional
instability to arrive at a state with a written constitution, an
elected president and parliament."
"THIS IS NOT THE REMEDY"
Analyst Seif El Din Abdel Fatah said the decree targeted the
judiciary which had reversed, for example, an earlier Mursi
decision to remove the prosecutor.
Mursi, who is now protected by his new decree from judicial
reversals, said the judiciary contained honourable men but said
he would uncover corrupt elements. He also said he would ensure
independence for the judicial, executive and legislative powers.
Although many of Mursi's opponents also opposed the sacked
prosecutor, whom they blamed for shortcomings in prosecuting
Mubarak and his aides, and also want judicial reform, they say a
draconian presidential decree was not the way to do it.
"There was a disease but this is not the remedy," said
Hassan Nafaa, a liberal-minded political science professor and
activist at Cairo University.