Arab Spring meets the winter of discontent

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.

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Protesters storm an office of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice party and set fires in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. State TV says Morsi opponents also set fire to his party’s offices in the Suez Canal cities of Suez, Port Said and Ismailia. Photograph: Amira Mortada/AP

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.

‘Furious’ crowds

“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. source – France 24