Morsy assures his people that his moves are only temporary and intended to clear the political obstacles posed by remnants of the old regime. An order banning courts from overturning any decisions he has made or will make in the next six months, Morsy says, will last only until a new constitution is put together.
A street vendor grills corn as Egyptian soldiers stand guard at the Presidential Palace on Tuesday, December 18, in Cairo. Protesters opposed to President Mohamed Morsy's first round of voting in the constitutional referendum gather during continuing demonstrations.
Egyptian army tanks are deployed outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Thursday, December 13. Egypt's crisis showed no sign of easing as the army delayed unity talks meant to ease political divisions and the opposition set near-impossible demands for taking part in a looming constitutional referendum.
A young protester climbs atop a barricade erected by the Egyptian army on December 11. There were no incidents of violence and soldiers held the line as a couple of hundred protesters pressed up against waist-high crowd barriers.
An Egyptian army soldier patrols outside the Egyptian presidential palace on Monday, December 10, in Cairo. The Egyptian political crisis erupted last month when President Mohamed Morsy issued an edict allowing himself to run the country unchecked until the drafting of a new constitution.
Members of the Egyptian opposition gather for a protest outside the presidential palace on Sunday, December 9, in Cairo. The palace has been the scene of violent clashes pitting thousands of protesters -- for and against Morsy.
Guy Fawkes masks are displayed by a street vendor in front of the Egyptian presidential palace in Cairo on December 9. The masks depict Fawkes, a rebel executed in England's Gunpowder Plot seeking to blow up the House of Lords in the early 1600s.
A Morsy supporter waves a flag outside the Supreme Constitutional Court as hundreds of supporters of the president protest on Sunday, December 2, in Cairo, forcing judges to postpone a hearing on a constitutional panel at the heart of a deepening political crisis.
Activists in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Monday, November 26, carry the coffin of Gaber Salah, an activist who died overnight after he was critically injured in clashes in Cairo. Salah, a member of the April 6 movement known by his nickname "Jika," was injured last week during confrontations between police and protesters on Cairo's Mohammed Mahmud street.
Protesters clash with Egyptian police at Simon Bolivar Square on Sunday, November 25, in Cairo. Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood called nationwide demonstrations in support of Islamist President Mohamed Morsy in his showdown with the judges over the path to a new constitution.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy waves to supporters in front of the presidential palace in Cairo on Friday, November 23. Thousands of ecstatic supporters gathered outside the presidential palace to defend their leader against accusations from rival protesters that he has become a dictator.
Morsy supporters gather outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Friday. Morsy insisted that Egypt was on the path to "freedom and democracy," as protesters held rival rallies over sweeping powers he assumed that further polarized the country's political forces.
Clashes rocked the coastal city of Alexandria on Friday.
Even if Morsy stays true to his word and rescinds the decree after the constitution is finalized, he will have managed to consolidate more power, said Eric Trager, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“By the time you get that new constitution, it will have been written by an Islamist-dominated assembly that all non-Islamists have completely abandoned, and the new parliamentary elections will likely exclude members of the former ruling party who posed the greatest threat to his authority,” Trager told CNN.
Morsy also ordered new trials and new investigations involving the deaths of protesters during last year’s pro-democracy uprising, which Trager said will “very clearly” be used to go after major figures from the former ruling party. Some of them are in fact corrupt, he said, but others may not have been.
Cabinet Chief Mohamed Refa’a al-Tahtawi told CNN on Friday that the majority of Egyptians were eager to see Morsy act with a strong hand to forge progress in a government he says is impeded by former regime members.
Peter Jones, a Middle East expert at the University of Ottawa, says it’s true that many Egyptians are frustrated with the lack of progress, but opponents feel Morsy’s actions are not the answer.
“It’s not that the changes that Morsy is making are necessarily unpopular,” Jones told CNN. “It’s the way he’s doing it that has gotten people upset, because it reminds them of the way Mubarak used to govern.”
“I don’t want another dictator,” Cairo resident and CNN iReporter Ahmed Raafat said after demonstrating in Tahrir Square. “I protested against Mubarak and the military council because they were dictators, so I will continue protesting against Morsy if it keeps him from following their footsteps.”
Hamzawy and others say Morsy has created a deeply polarized society and forestalled a national dialogue on the next political steps.
At the same time, Trager says, Morsy’s actions have also unified his opponents.
“The non-Islamists had previously been divided between leftists, Nasrists, socialists, communists, Christians, liberals, and by seizing executive power and trashing the judicial oversight so brazenly, Morsy has enabled them to paper over their other divisions.”
Experts say it’s possible that in issuing his edicts Thursday, Morsy was trying to build on the international acclaim he garnered for helping to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas a day earlier.
“He’s been considering this sort of thing for a while, I expect,” Jones said, referring to the edicts. “But given his role in Gaza … I think he thought this would be a good time to act.”
Trager agreed that Morsy may have tried to use the good will he received after the Gaza crisis to his advantage, “but really, I think domestic factors and a desire to consolidate the Muslim Brotherhood’s power were the primary catalyst.”
After Morsy’s announcement, protesters focused their fury on the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement that has become Egypt’s leading political force after being banned under Mubarak. The group has rallied in support of Morsy, its former leader.
Protesters attacked Muslim Brotherhood offices in several cities Friday.
“No transition will hold if Egypt becomes more polarized,” wrote The Guardian newspaper Friday. “Mr. Morsy still needs a consensus to govern.”