CAIRO - Agence France-Press
Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi (pictured on placard) celebrate in front of the high court in Cairo, Egypt, 22 November 2012. EPA photo
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi told supporters on Thursday that Egypt was on the path to "freedom and democracy," a day after he assumed sweeping powers in a move critics said made him a dictator.
"Political stability, social stability and economic stability are what I want and that is what I am working for," he told an Islamist rally outside the presidential palace.
Secular opponents staged a rival rally in Cairo's Tahrir Square to denounce Morsi's power grab.
"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.
Earlier, MENA news agency quoted him as saying: "No one can stop our march forward... I am performing my duty to please God and the nation and I take decisions after I consult with everyone."
Egypt protesters torch Islamist party HQs: TV
Egyptian protesters set fire to Muslim Brotherhood offices on Friday, state television reported, as rival rallies gathered nationwide a day after President Mohamed Morsi assumed sweeping powers.
The offices of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, were torched in the canal cities of Ismailiya and Port Said, state television said.
Earlier it had reported that the Suez office too had been torched, but it later said that it had not been.
An FJP official told AFP the party's office was also stormed in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, where clashes broke out between rival demonstrators.
On Thursday, Morsi assumed temporary sweeping powers that supporters say will cut back a turbulent and seemingly endless transition to democracy, but outraged critics say he has now become a dictator.Egyptians divided over Morsi power grab
Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Morsi has assumed temporary sweeping powers that supporters say will cut back a turbulent and seemingly endless transition to democracy, but outraged critics say he has now become a dictator.
His mostly liberal opposition, already roiling over an Islamist-dominated constituent assembly preparing a new charter, called for protests after Morsi assumed his new powers in a surprise announcement on Thursday.
In one swoop, Morsi hamstrung the judiciary, the last check on his powers, by stripping courts of the right to challenge his decrees or annul the constituent assembly, until a constitution is agreed.
Morsi crossed a line by shielding his decrees from judicial review, powers even the fallen dictator Hosni Mubarak did not enjoy, Morsi's critics say.
And, unlike Mubarak, Morsi is an Islamist whose Muslim Brotherhood movement wants to gradually introduce Islamic law, as seen in provisions of the draft constitution that appeared to further entrench Sharia.
"Morsi today usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh. A major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences," Egyptian Nobel
Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on his Twitter account.
According to the country's political timetable, a new parliament will be elected after a constitution is ratified, to replace the Islamist-dominated house annulled by a court before Morsi's election last June.
"We need to move things in the right direction," said Murad Ali, the spokesman for the Freedom and Justice Party which Morsi headed until his election as president.
"We need stability. That's not going to happen if we go back again to allowing the judges, who have personal reasons, to dissolve the constituent assembly in order to prolong the transitional phase," he said.
A top court was set to rule on the assembly's legality next month. Liberals, journalists, farmers and Christian churches had already withdrawn their representatives from the panel, furthering the possibility of its annulment by court.
Morsi came into power pledging to address layers of corruption, poverty and unemployment that fuelled the early 2011 uprising that ousted president Hosni Mubarak. Five months later, little has changed and more Egyptians grumble about Morsi's apparent inability to bring about the changes as he wrangles with his opponents and a hostile judiciary.
"One can't achieve anything on the ground, that's what they want," Ali says of the president's opponents.
"The problem with Morsi's decree is that it is very open ended," said Issandr El Amrani, a Cairo-based analyst and visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
"If we take it at face value, it's about finishing the transition," he said. "At the same time it opens the way for him to make other decisions and impose other things. For instance, an electoral law to the Muslim Brotherhood's advantage." Morsi's decree was packaged in other decisions long demanded by many in the opposition, such as sacking the state prosecutor, accused of bungling trials of ex-regime figures leading to their acquittals.
It also struck at a judiciary which insists that it is independent but is rife with Mubarak-era appointees whom critics say helped prop up Mubarak's three-decade rule.
"I understand where this is coming from. There is a fundamental problem with the independence of the judiciary in Egypt," said Heba Morayef, Human Rights Watch's Egypt director.
"But these sledgehammer tactics only alienate the legal community," she said.