Protesters rush a wounded comrade to a field hospital in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, November 23, 2012.
Protesters rush a wounded comrade to a field hospital in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, November 23, 2012.

CAIRO - Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi addressed a crowd of supporters in front of the presidential palace Friday, insisting that his top priority is to achieve the goals of Egypt's 2011 revolution. The speech came as thousands demonstrated across the country in the wake of a new presidential decree announced Thursday giving Morsi sweeping powers.   

Morsi's supporters waved flags and chanted slogans to support him after gathering in front of the presidential palace early Friday. The rally took place at the same time as a rival rally of Morsi opponents gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Speaking to the crowd in front of the presidential palace, Morsi insisted that he would “never take sides in favor of one party of Egyptians against another.” At the same time, he accused what he called “miscreants or thugs” of trying to destroy Egyptian state institutions.

He says that we can't allow corrupt individuals, under the umbrella of the former (Mubarak) regime, to use thugs to attack the institutions of state. This is not my personal wish, he insists, but the right of everyone.

Protesters storm an office of Egyptian President M
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, Egypt, Nov. 23, 2012.

President Morsi said his chief priority is to defend the goals of last year's popular revolution, accusing the courts of “issuing strange rulings” and trying to “manipulate the political situation.”

At Cairo's Tahrir Square, secular opponents of the president and his Muslim Brotherhood allies denounced his move to consolidate power and called for him to resign. Former presidential candidates Amr Moussa, Hamdeen Sabahi and Mohamed ElBaradei joined the march to reverse the controversial decision.

Egyptian publisher and human rights activist Hisham Kassem said many ordinary Egyptians were outraged by Morsi's announcement.

“People are furious all over......people who are normally not politicized, but see what is coming," said Kassem.

On Friday, anti-Morsi demonstrators ransacked and burned a Muslim Brotherhood political office in Egypt's coastal port city of Alexandria, after clashes with supporters of the president. Two other party headquarters were attacked in Suez and Mahalla al Kubra. Police also fired tear gas at young opponents of the president in Tahrir Square.

Kassem noted that some Egyptians are questioning the timing of Morsi's move to grant himself sweeping new powers, following his successful effort Wednesday to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas. He points out that some analysts think the president may have felt empowered by U.S. and Western praise over his role in that conflict.

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