The president and his supporters cast his decision as one of last resort, necessary because loyalists of the former regime are trying to derail Egypt's transition to a stable democracy.
Others, including some of Egypt's international allies, called it a worrying concentration of power in the hands of one man. Because parliament is disbanded, Morsi currently holds legislative power as well as executive, and the judiciary remained the main check on his authority.
Morsi may not abuse his power now, but his actions establish a dangerous precedent, says H. A. Hellyer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who is based in Cairo.
"Morsi has just instituted a precedent, which is that if you win and circumstances allow, you get to decide the rules of the democratic game from scratch," says Dr. Hellyer. "This could lead to making Egyptian democracy purely about who wins at the ballot box, and then giving the victor a blank check to do whatever he wants until the next vote."
The president announced the surprise decision Nov. 22, after winning international accolades for brokering a truce in the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. He declared that all of his decisions and the laws he issues are immune from any challenge and cannot be overturned. He also said that no judicial body can dissolve the committee tasked with writing Egypt's new constitution, which has been stymied by waves of resignations, and extended the December deadline for finishing the document by two months.