CAIRO — Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered Tuesday in the center of Cairo to protest their democratically elected president’s recent decrees granting himself near-absolute power, chanting slogans against the Muslim Brotherhood and accusing him of trying to become Egypt’s new dictator.
Protesters filled Tahrir Square — the heart of Egypt’s 2011 revolution — and called on President Mohammed Morsi to step down in a scene reminiscent of the popular uprising that led to the ouster of longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. Massive protests were held in other cities throughout the country.
In several clashes throughout the day, police fired tear gas on demonstrators while being pelted with rocks, as thunderous Arabic chants of “Leave” and “Down with the rule of the Supreme Guide [Muslim Brotherhood]” echoed through the square. Clashes broke out in several cities as Morsi opponents tried to attack offices of the Brotherhood and set fire to at least one, The Associated Press reported.
“The Brotherhood stole the country,” read one banner at the square — held by groups of protesters, including mostly liberal and secular political opposition parties, activist groups and many who had never before engaged in protests.
An estimated 200,000 demonstrators rallied in Tahrir Square into the evening, waving the red, black and white Egyptian flag.
The Muslim Brotherhood originally planned to hold a counterdemonstration but decided against it to reduce the risk of violent clashes with opposition figures.
Not backing down
Anti-government activists claim that the decrees Mr. Morsi issued late Thursday — giving him the power to override the judiciary and make decisions from judicial review — are tantamount to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood’s undoing of a revolution aimed at returning power to the Egyptian people.
Opposition politicians have accused the president of bolstering his own powers and those of his Islamist cohorts to dictatorial proportions, noting that the Muslim Brotherhood dominates Egypt’s parliament and the Constituent Assembly, which is tasked with writing the country’s new constitution.
The drafting of the constitution has stalled over several issues including the role of Islamic law, the rights of women and presidential powers. Most of the liberal and secular members of the 100-member assembly have walked out.
Mr. Morsi, who announced his new powers after he helped broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, has said his decrees are necessary to shield Egypt from “threats against the revolution.”
Under the decrees, the upper house of parliament and the Constituent Assembly cannot be dissolved.
Gehad el-Haddad, a senior adviser to the Brotherhood and its political party, said the opposition is “very divided” and that Mr. Morsi will not back down. “We are not rescinding the declaration,” he told the AP.
By Elaine Donnelly
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