Egypt’s president Mohamed Morsi struck a conciliatory note towards his opponents on Friday after a decree he issued one day earlier stirred controversy among many political forces and youth activists.
Opening the speech he gave in front of the presidential palace in Cairo in the late afternoon hours, Morsi thanked God for “bringing all Muslims together to topple an oppressive regime and for taking Egypt to the path of democracy, freedom, social justice and stability."
Morsi stressed that he, as president, does not only stand by his supporters but also with his opposition, referring to the thousands gathered in Tahrir Square to protest against the Constitutional Declaration that he issued late Thursday.
“I stand by you, whoever you are or wherever you are ... those who support me and those who oppose me. I would never be biased towards one camp against the other,” he said amid loud cheers from the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, from which he hails.
The declaration stipulated that the president's decisions cannot be overturned by any judicial authority, which would mean Morsi has legislative, executive, constitutional and now judicial authorities, leading commentators and protesters to dub Morsi the "new Pharaoh."
In addition, the controversy-dogged Constituent Assembly and Shura Council (upper house of parliament) would be immune to dissolution by a judicial body, a move that angered many.
“The Constitutional Declaration does not aim to exact revenge on anyone," Morsi said, adding that it is the opposition's right to express their discontent with the constitutional document.
Morsi’s speech was repeatedly interrupted by chants of “the people demand the cleansing of the media” but he stopped short of making a direct reference to one of the headline-grabbing issues.
Supporters say Morsi must have a more tough approach when dealing with his critics while opponents say he had already started to curb the freedom of media by taking the liberal Dream TV off air earlier this month.
Morsi assured the crowds that he does not want to abuse his legislative power, adding that he would never use his authorities against any person or party.
“I’m only holding the legislative power out of necessity. I wanted to bring back the parliament, but I couldn't,” he said.
Morsi slammed Mohamed Mahmoud Street protesters, claiming they were “paid thugs” who were pushed to attack the police, adding that he does not accept any attack on state institutions.
Protesters commemorating last year’s infamous Mohamed Mahmoud clashes, which left over 40 killed, engaged in fresh confrontations with police forces near the interior ministry since Monday evening.
“We saw videos showing little kids saying they were paid to throw rocks in Mohamed Mahmoud," he said.
“The money stolen [during the Mubarak era] is now being used to disrupt the path of the revolution.”
The president also alluded to “a new law”, which will be used to “restore order” in Egypt.
“In the new law there is no room for cutting roads or stifling productions,” he said in reference to the recent waves of labour action across the Egyptian private and public sectors.
“The Egyptian people are rising, but our enemies outside and few remnants of the past regime do not want us to. God protected our revolution and will make it victorious eventually.
While Morsi gave his speech, clashes continued around Tahrir Square. Tear gas canisters were thrown by CSF from Qasr Al-Ainy Street reaching edges of the square where thousands were gathered to protest the president's constitutional declaration.
The new constitutional declaration also saw Morsi dismiss the current prosecutor-general, bringing judge Talaat Abdullah, a former deputy head of Egypt’s Court of Cassation, in his place.
Abdullah replaces Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, who was recently at loggerheads with Morsi over a presidential decision to remove him from his post.
The declaration stipulates the retrial of all exonerated former regime figures and those accused of killing or injuring protesters during and after last year's Tahrir Square uprising.