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Egyptians accuse President Morsi of rewriting rules of democracy

President Morsi's decree this week drew accusations that he was returning Egypt to the days of the Mubarak regime, but he defended his decision as an effort to protect the revolution. 

By Correspondent / November 24, 2012

Protesters stand outside the Supreme Judicial Council building in Cairo, Egypt. Thousands have taken to the streets after Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi assumed sweeping new powers.

Asmaa Waguih/Reuters

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Cairo

Thousands of Egyptians poured into the streets around Egypt yesterday to protest a decree by President Mohamed Morsi that sidelines Egypt's judiciary, ensures the survival of a disputed constitution drafting assembly, and removes nearly all checks to his power until a new constitution is written.

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Protesters clashed with the president's supporters in some cities, and attacked and burned local headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, also the party of President Morsi, in at least two cities. In Cairo, thousands of people filled Tahrir Square to voice their anger at what they viewed as a dictatorial power grab.

Protesters shouted slogans familiar from the days of the 2011 uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak, and expressed fear that Morsi was amassing power that would turn him into the type of authoritarian leader they had revolted against last year.  

"Morsi will become a new dictator," said Ahmed Abd Rabou, an accountant who came to Tahrir to protest the president's decree, as he watched police fire tear gas at some demonstrators. "He wants to make himself a new pharaoh in Egypt."

On the other side of the city, thousands of people gathered at the presidential palace to support the president's decision. He made an appearance at the crowd, telling his supporters that he had done what was necessary to protect the revolution. "There are weevils eating away at the nation of Egypt," he said.

The president and his supporters cast his decision as one of last resort, necessary because loyalists of the former regime are trying to derail Egypt's transition to a stable democracy.

Others, including some of Egypt's international allies, called it a worrying concentration of power in the hands of one man. Because parliament is disbanded, Morsi currently holds legislative power as well as executive, and the judiciary remained the main check on his authority. 

Morsi may not abuse his power now, but his actions establish a dangerous precedent, says H. A. Hellyer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who is based in Cairo. 

"Morsi has just instituted a precedent, which is that if you win and circumstances allow, you get to decide the rules of the democratic game from scratch," says Dr. Hellyer. "This could lead to making Egyptian democracy purely about who wins at the ballot box, and then giving the victor a blank check to do whatever he wants until the next vote."

Anything to protect the revolution?

The president announced the surprise decision Nov. 22, after winning international accolades for brokering a truce in the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. He declared that all of his decisions and the laws he issues are immune from any challenge and cannot be overturned. He also said that no judicial body can dissolve the committee tasked with writing Egypt's new constitution, which has been stymied by waves of resignations, and extended the December deadline for finishing the document by two months.

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