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Friends and foes of Egyptian president Morsi set for conflict

Protesters and riot police clash Sunday in downtown Cairo. The Egyptian Justice Minister joined criticism of a sweeping edict issued Thursday by President Mohamed Morsi that exempted the President’s decrees from judicial review until ratification of a constitution.


Egyptians are bracing for a potentially violent showdown this week between supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsi, as protests against the President's controversial recent decrees enter their fourth day and claimed their first casualty.

A teenager died Sunday when protesters tried to storm a Muslim Brotherhood office in the town of Damanhoor in the Nile delta, according to Egyptian security officials. The circumstances were unclear but the Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, identified the 15-year-old as one of its members and said he was killed after "thugs" attacked the headquarters.

The demonstrators are protesting Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's decree granting himself immunity from judicial review as well as other measures neutralizing the judges. On Sunday, the first day of the Egyptian work week, neither Mr. Morsi nor the various groups and factions opposed to him appeared willing to back down on a series of presidential orders he issued on Thursday. The most contentious of those orders – giving unchecked powers to Mr. Morsi and the heavily Islamist committee charged with writing the new Egyptian constitution – sparked massive protests in downtown Cairo, as well as calls from myriad opposition parties for Mr. Morsi to repeal the orders or resign.

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Both Mr. Morsi's opponents and his allies within the Muslim Brotherhood appeared set for a confrontation this week, as both sides have large rallies planned for Tuesday.

Initially, it appeared the rallies would be held very close to one another in downtown Cairo, raising the possibility of violent clashes.

However, on Sunday, the Muslim Brotherhood appeared poised to move its rally to the Cairo suburb of Giza.

Ripple effects from the latest bout of uncertainty in Egypt's 22-month-old revolution could be seen across the country on Sunday.

The country's benchmark stock exchange index plummeted more than 9 per cent on the day, triggering a temporary trading halt. Also on Sunday, fistfights broke out at a meeting of the country's Syndicate of Journalists, a press union, as the group attempted to take a position on Mr. Morsi's declaration. Across the country, many courtrooms sat silent, as a number of judges went on strike in protest.

In an attempt to calm tensions, the Morsi-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party issued a statement describing the President's decrees as a temporary measure that will expire once Egypt's new constitution is written.

But while the statement was somewhat conciliatory in nature, it betrayed no signs that Mr. Morsi intended to repeal the orders.

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"The Freedom and Justice Party believes that the President's Decrees contained in his recent Constitutional Declaration fulfill many revolutionary goals demanded by all political, social and popular groups that participated in the January 25 revolution – for freedom, dignity and social justice," the statement read.

"We faced, together, many obstacles during the tumultuous transitional period – obstacles made by former regime loyalists in order to discredit the revolution and halt its progress," it added.

Mr. Morsi's office also said in a statement that he sought "common ground" and dialogue. He is to meet with a council of senior judges on Monday, according to state media.

But if the statements were meant to bridge the gap between Mr. Morsi and his opponents, it showed no signs of having succeeded.

High-profile Egyptian politician is Mohamed ElBaradei, a former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency and one-time presidential candidate, called on Mr. Morsi to repeal what he termed a "power grab," and other activists bestowed on the President the mocking nickname, "Morsilini."

Dozens of tents in the centre of Tahrir Square on Sunday were another indicator that the opposition to Mr. Morsi's decrees would continue and that many protesters had no intention of leaving any time soon.

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Sporadic clashes between demonstrators and security officers took place throughout downtown Cairo and in other parts of the country.

And while Tahrir Square was relatively violence-free for much of Sunday, signs of the past days' chaos were readily apparent. Near the square, the husk of a burned-out car blocked a small side-street, not far from the blackened exterior of a partially torched building.

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