The European Union (EU) and the United Nations on Friday called on Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi to respect the democratic process in his country after he awarded himself sweeping new dictatorial powers.
Mohammed ElBaradei, a prominent pro-democracy figure and former head of the U.N.'s nuclear agency, accused Morsi of declaring himself a "new pharaoh."
Morsi today usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh," ElBaradei said on Twitter. "A major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences."
The European Union, which wants to keep Egypt as a western ally, slammed Morsi’s decision to place his rule above judicial review.
"It is of utmost importance that [the] democratic process be completed in accordance with the commitments undertaken by the Egyptian leadership," a spokesman for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.
These commitments included "the separation of powers, the independence of justice, the protection of fundamental freedoms and the holding of democratic parliamentary elections as soon as possible", the spokesman said.
The changes raise very serious human rights concerns, the United Nations said.
"We are very concerned about the possible huge ramifications of this declaration on human rights and the rule of law in Egypt," Rupert Colville told a news briefing at the United Nations in Geneva. "We also fear this could lead to a very volatile situation over the next few days, starting today in fact."
Protests were beginning following Friday midday prayers, with prominent pro-democracy figures, like ElBaradei expected to attend.
By Friday, Morsi’s supporters and opponents had clashed in Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city, where protesters stormed the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood's party in Alexandria on Friday, throwing chairs and books into the street and setting them alight.
Two cars had glass smashed as the clashes moved away from the area.
In Port Said, another port on the Mediterranean, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party headquarters and pelted it with rocks. Some tried to storm it but did not enter, another witness said.
Morsi's decree on Thursday also shielded from legal challenge an Islamist-dominated assembly writing Egypt's new constitution, as well as the upper house of parliament, which is dominated by Islamists allied to Morsi and tied to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Secular and liberals in the government have been angered that Morsi and his allies appear to be leaning more and more towards imposing Shariah law.
Morsi's aides said the move, which also gave the president new powers that allowed him to sack the Mubarak-era prosecutor general and appoint a new one, was to speed up the country's protracted transition that has been hindered by legal obstacles.
But the declaration raised fears among secular-minded Egyptians that the Muslim Brotherhood, where Morsi has his roots, and the group's allies aim to dominate the new Egypt.
Morsi told worshippers at a mosque in Cairo on Friday that Egypt was moving forward and his actions were taken to satisfy God and the nation, the official news agency reported.
"We are, God willing, moving forward, and no one stands in our way," he said in the mosque in a Cairo suburb after Friday prayers, speaking after issuing the decree.
"I fulfill my duties to please God and the nation and I take decisions after consulting with everyone," he said. "Victory does not come without a clear plan and this is what I have."
Still, the West has doubts.
The European Union is Egypt's biggest trading partner, accounting for more than 30 percent of the country's trade volume. EU-Egypt bilateral trade was worth $23 billion in 2011, its highest ever level.
Last week, the EU said it would provide Egypt with nearly 5 billion euros in loans and grants for 2012-2013. The funds will be provided by the European Commission, the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Morsi visited Brussels in September for talks with EU leaders.
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