Anti-Mursi protesters chant anti-government slogans in
Tahrir Square in Cairo. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih (EGYPT - Tags:
CIVIL UNREST POLITICS)
Tens of thousands Egyptians protested on Tuesday against
President Mohamed Mursi in one of the biggest rallies since
Hosni Mubarak's overthrow, accusing the Islamist leader of
seeking to impose a new era of autocracy.
Police fired tear gas at stone-throwing youths in streets
near the main protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square, heart of the
uprising that toppled Mubarak last year. Clashes between
Mursi's opponents and supporters erupted in a city north of
But violence could not overshadow the show of strength by the
normally divided opponents of Islamists in power, posing
Mursi with the biggest challenge in his five months in
"The people want to bring down the regime," protesters in
Tahrir chanted, echoing slogans used in the 2011 revolt.
Protesters also turned out in Alexandria, Suez, Minya and
other Nile Delta cities.
Tuesday's protest called by leftists, liberals and other
groups deepened the worst crisis since the Muslim Brotherhood
politician was elected in June, and exposed the deep divide
between the newly empowered Islamists and their opponents.
A 52-year-old protester died after inhaling teargas in Cairo,
the second death since Mursi last week issued a decree that
expanded his powers and barred court challenges to his
Mursi's administration has defended the decree as an effort
to speed up reforms and complete a democratic transformation.
But opponents say Mursi is behaving like a modern-day
pharaoh, a jibe levelled at Mubarak. The United States, a
benefactor to Egypt's military, has expressed concern about
more turbulence in a country that has a peace treaty with
"We don't want a dictatorship again. The Mubarak regime was a
dictatorship. We had a revolution to have justice and
freedom," 32-year-old Ahmed Husseini said in Cairo.
The fractious ranks of Egypt's non-Islamist opposition have
been united on the street by crisis, although they have yet
to build an electoral machine to challenge well-organised
Islamists, who have beaten their more secular-minded rivals
at the ballot box in two elections held since Mubarak was
"There are signs that over the last couple of days that Mursi
and the Brotherhood realised their mistake," said Elijah
Zarwan, a fellow with The European Council on Foreign
Relations, adding the protests were "a very clear
illustration of how much of a political miscalculation this
Mursi's move provoked a rebellion by judges and has battered
confidence in an economy struggling after two years of
turmoil. The president still has to implement unpopular
measures to rein in Egypt's crushing budget deficit, action
needed to finalise a deal for a $4.8 billion International
Monetary Fund loan.
Some protesters have been camped out since Friday in Tahrir,
and violence has flared around the country, including in a
town north of Cairo where a Muslim Brotherhood youth was
killed in clashes on Sunday. Hundreds have been injured.
Supporters and opponents of Mursi threw stones at each other
and some hurled petrol bombs in the Delta city of el-Mahalla
el-Kubra. Medical sources said almost 200 people were
"The main demand is to withdraw the constitutional
declaration (decree). This is the point," said Amr Moussa,
former Arab League chief and presidential candidate who has
joined the new opposition coalition, the National Salvation
Front. The group includes several top liberal politicians.
Some scholars from the prestigious al-Azhar mosque and
university joined Tuesday's protest, showing that Mursi and
his Brotherhood have alienated some more moderate Muslims.
Members of Egypt's large Christian minority also joined in.
Mursi formally quit the Brotherhood on taking office, saying
he would be a president for all Egyptians, but he is still a
member of its Freedom and Justice Party.
The decree issued on Thursday expanded his powers and
protected his decisions from judicial review until the
election of a new parliament expected in the first half of
New York-based Human Rights Watch said it gives Mursi more
power than the interim military junta from which he took
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told an Austrian paper he
would encourage Mursi to resolve the issue by dialogue.
Trying to ease tensions with judges, Mursi assured Egypt's
highest judicial authority that elements of his decree giving
his decisions immunity applied only to matters of "sovereign"
importance. That should limit it to issues such as declaring
war, but experts said there was room for interpretation.
In another step to avoid more confrontation, the Muslim
Brotherhood cancelled plans for a rival mass rally in Cairo
on Tuesday to support the decree. Violence has flared in
Cairo in the past when both sides have taken to the streets.
But there has been no retreat on other elements of the
decree, including a stipulation that the Islamist-dominated
body writing a new constitution be protected from legal
"The decree must be cancelled and the constituent assembly
should be reformed. All intellectuals have left it and now it
is controlled by Islamists," said 50-year-old Noha Abol
With its popular legitimacy undermined by the withdrawal of
most of its non-Islamist members, the assembly faces a series
of court cases from plaintiffs who claim it was formed
Mursi issued the decree on Nov. 22, a day after he won U.S.
and international praise for brokering an end to eight days
of violence between Israel and Hamas around the Gaza Strip.
Mursi's decree was seen as targeting in part a legal
establishment still largely unreformed from Mubarak's era,
when the Brotherhood was outlawed.
Though both Islamists and their opponents broadly agree that
the judiciary needs reform, Mursi's rivals oppose his
Rulings from an array of courts this year have dealt a series
of blows to the Brotherhood, leading to the dissolution of
the first constitutional assembly and the lower house of
parliament elected a year ago. The Brotherhood dominated
The judiciary blocked an attempt by Mursi to reconvene the
Brotherhood-led parliament after his election victory. It
also stood in the way of his attempt to sack the prosecutor
general, another Mubarak holdover, in October.
In his decree, Mursi gave himself the power to sack that
prosecutor and appoint a new one. In open defiance of Mursi,
some judges are refusing to acknowledge that step.