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Egypt's Morsi says he wants to stabilize country, not become a Pharaoh

Responding to violent protests over the last four days, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi insisted that he assumed control of the judiciary to stabilize the country – not to concentrate power.

Protesters say that Morsi, who became the country’s first democratically-elected president on June 30, issued a decree of near-total executive power to elevate himself to Pharaoh-like status. They also worry that Morsi and his supporters will draft a constitution that will put Egypt on track to becoming like Turkey or religiously conservative Iran.

Morsi’s supporters say his control of the courts is temporary – a necessary move, they say, because the courts are governed by former President Hosni Mubarak appointees who have blocked the country's transition to democracy.

According to the BBC, a statement by the presidency emphasized that Morsi's measures were implemented to avoid “attempts to undermine democratically elected bodies and preserve the impartiality of the judiciary."

Regardless of Morsi’s intent, the fallout has been acute. Six of his aides resigned Sunday, and stock markets plunged by 10 percent in Egypt. Youth protesters attacked the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party – with which Morsi is affiliated – killing one and wounding 60. Fights have even broken out between journalists covering the escalating tension.

The BBC’s Jon Leyne wrote that Morsi’s actions – whether naïve or over-confident – could result in sectarian struggle. Morsi issued his decree on Thursday, the day after he was lauded by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for helping to negotiate a truce between the Palestinians and Israel.

In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, NBC’s Jim Maceda reported that Egyptians are understandably nervous, given their political history. Mubarak maintained military rule for three decades before he was overthrown during the Arab Spring revolution in February 2011.

That sentiment was reflected in a statement by the liberal Constitution party, according to the Guardian: "We are facing a historic moment in which we either complete our revolution or we abandon it to become prey for a group that has put its narrow party interests above the national interest."

Morsi says he is committed to finding “common ground” with other political parties, and he plans to meet with senior judges on Monday to work toward a compromise, the BBC reported. Meanwhile, both sides have called for mass protests in Cairo on Tuesday.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland weighed in on Friday, Al Jazeera reported, saying that Morsi’s declarations “raise concerns for many Egyptians and for the international community.”

"One of the aspirations of the revolution was to ensure that power would not be overly concentrated in the hands of any one person or institution," Nuland said.

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