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Egypt mass protests challenge Islamist president Mohammed Morsi
First Published Nov 27 2012 11:10 am • Last Updated Nov 27 2012 11:13 am

CAIRO • More than 100,000 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.

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Shortly after nightfall, Tahrir — birthplace of the uprising that toppled authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago — was filled with a crowd that appeared to easily exceed 100,000, even before the arrival of thousands more still marching there. 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."

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. Mist-like white clouds caused by the 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.

The strong turnout for the rallies — which also took place in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and other cities — escalates a standoff between Morsi and the opposition over his declaration last week of new powers for himself. So far, Morsi has shown no sign of backing down to demands he rescind the edicts, which effectively neutered the judiciary, the only government branch capable of balancing the presidency.

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. The backlash over the edicts has also 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.


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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.

But Gehad el-Haddad, a senior adviser to the Brotherhood and its political party, told The Associated Press that the opposition was "very divided" and that Morsi would not back down.

"We are not rescinding the declaration," he said.

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.

El-Haddad said the decrees "cemented the way forward" by protecting the assembly and upper house.

In a series of Tweets, the Brotherhood dismissed the rallies, saying even while the square was packed that the turnout was "low" and showed a lack of support for the opposition.

Morsi’s supporters canceled a massive rally they had planned for Tuesday in Cairo, citing the need to "defuse tension" after a series of clashes between the two camps since the decrees were issued Thursday. Morsi’s supporters say more than a dozen of their offices have been ransacked or set ablaze since Friday. Some 5,000 demonstrated in the southern city of Assiut in support of Morsi’s decrees, according to witnesses there.

The opposition says the decrees give Morsi near dictatorial powers by neutralizing the judiciary at a time when he already holds executive and legislative powers. Leading judges have also denounced the measures.

But many who joined Tuesday’s protests lashed out more broadly against the rule of Morsi, who came to office in June as Egypt’s first freely elected president. For months, criticism has been growing that Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists are monopolizing power in the government and trying to dictate the next constitution while not doing enough to tackle the country’s multiple economic and security woes.

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