Thousands of Egyptians protest Morsi in Tahrir Square
CAIRO (AP) — More than 200,000 people flocked to Cairo’s central Tahrir square on Tuesday, chanting against Egypt’s Islamist president in a powerful show of strength by the opposition demanding Mohammed Morsi revoke edicts granting himself near autocratic powers.
Waving Egypt’s red, white and black flags, crowds of protesters marched across Cairo to stream into the iconic plaza, as opposition to the decrees issued last week turned into a broader expression of anger against the rule of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood.
In the evening, Tahrir — birthplace of the uprising that toppled authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago — was filled with a crowd that appeared to be at least 200,000. The protest was comparable in size to the daily Tahrir rallies during last year’s 18-day uprising.
Ringing out at the square was the central chant of the 2010-2011 Arab Spring revolts: ‘‘The people want to bring down the regime,’’ and ‘‘erhal, erhal’’ — Arabic for ‘‘leave, leave.’’
‘‘Suddenly Morsi is issuing laws and becoming the absolute ruler, holding all powers in his hands,’’ said protester Mona Sadek, a 31-year-old engineering graduate who wears the Islamic veil, a hallmark of piety. ‘‘Our revolt against the decrees became a protest against the Brotherhood as well.’’
But Gehad el-Haddad, a senior adviser to the Brotherhood and its political party, said the opposition was ‘‘very divided’’ and that Morsi would not back down. ‘‘We are not rescinding the declaration,’’ he told The Associated Press. Morsi’s edicts effectively neutralize the judiciary, which was the only branch of government in a position to balance Morsi, who holds not only executive but also legislative authority.
The staunch stand taken by Morsi and his Brotherhood sets the stage for a long-drawn battle with the opposition that could paralyze the nation at a time when its economic woes are deepening, security continues to be tenuous and strikes by an entire spectrum of white and blue collar workers show no sign of abating.
If the opposition seeks to sustain large protests to force Morsi to back down and if the Brotherhood responds with mass rallies of its own, as some of its leaders have hinted, it would raised the prospect of greater violence after a series of clashes between the two camps in recent days. Already, newspaper commentators are speaking of a divided nation that may be looking at the prospect of a civil war.
Even as the crowds swelled in Tahrir, clashes erupted nearby between several hundred young protesters throwing stones and police firing tear gas on a street off Tahrir leading to the U.S. Embassy. Clouds of tear gas hung close to the ground at the area. Clashes have been taking place at the site for several days, fueled by anger over police abuses, separately from the crisis over Morsi. A photographer working for the AP, Ahmed Gomaa, was heavily beaten by police using sticks while covering the clashes Tuesday. Police took his equipment, and Gomaa was taken to hospital for treatment.
Protests also took place in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and other citie
The edicts have energized the liberal and secular opposition after months of divisions and uncertainty while Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups rose to dominate the political landscape. But the backlash has been further fueled by broader anger over what critics see as the Brotherhood’s monopolizing of power after its election victories the past year for parliament and the presidency.
Raafat Magdi, an engineer, said, ‘‘We want to change this whole setting. The Brotherhood hijacked the revolution.’’
‘‘People woke up to his (Morsi's) mistakes, and in any new elections they will get no votes,’’ said Magdi, who was among a crowd of around 10, 000 marching from the Cairo district of Shubra to Tahrir to the beat of drums and chanting against the Brotherhood. Reform leader Mohammed ElBaradie led the march.
Former presidential candidate Amr Moussa, now a prominent opposition leader, said the protest showed ‘‘where the nation’s political forces stand on the constitutional declaration.’’
‘‘Wisdom dictates that the declaration must be reconsidered,’’ Moussa, a former Arab League chief, told the private CBC TV station by telephone.
Morsi says the decrees are necessary to protect the ‘‘revolution’’ and the nation’s transition to democratic rule.
His declaration made all his decisions immune to judicial review and banned the courts from dissolving the upper house of parliament and an assembly writing the new constitution, both of which are dominated by Islamists. The decree also gave Morsi sweeping authority to stop any ‘‘threats’’ to the revolution, public order or state institutions. The powers would last until the constitution is approved and parliamentary elections are held, not likely before spring 2013.Continued...