Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Egypt: protesters descend on Tahrir Square


VIA Abdel-Rahman Hussein in Cairo
The Guardian, Tuesday 27 November 2012 14.00 EST

More than 100,000 gather to protest against a decree issued by Mohamed Morsi granting sweeping constitutional powers

A view of anti-Morsi protesters gathering at Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt

Columns of protesters from all over the Egyptian capital descend on Tahrir Square, the centre of the January 2011 revolution. Photograph: Mohamed Abdel Ghany/Reuters

More than 100,000 people took to the streets of Cairo to protest against a decree by Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi that grants him sweeping constitutional powers.

Columns of protesters from all over the Egyptian capital descended on Tahrir Square, the centre of the January 2011 revolution, in numbers that rivalled the rallies in the 18-day protest that toppled the authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak.

"Dictator" was the word being used to describe Morsi's new status after last Thursday's decree, which grants the immunity for the president from judicial review as well protecting a controversial constitutional assembly dominated by the group he is affiliated with, the Muslim Brotherhood.

"Today's protests are to overthrow oppression and stand up to the new dictatorship of Morsi, his decree and a constitution far removed from the revolution," said Haytham Mohamedeen of the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists movement. "He has to back down. The revolution and the streets will dictate what he will do. If he stands in the way of the revolution he will share the same fate as Mubarak."

Other marchers – who took to the streets in numbers similar to those that toppled Mubarak – called for Morsi not merely to rescind his decree but to step down from the presidency. The iconic chant of the 2011 revolution – "The people want to bring down the regime" – was echoed in other major Egyptian cities, including Alexandria and Suez.

Police continuously fired tear gas not far from Tahrir Square, and fighting between police and protesters continued nearby even while people continued to mill in. Among them was Mohamed ElBaradei, the former IAEA chief who has taken on the role of coordinator of a national salvation front set up to unite opposition parties opposed to the decree.

Rami Ghanem of the National Front for Justice and Democracy said that Morsi's decree had galvanized and united Egypt's disparate opposition groups. "Most political movements have joined a salvation front with a united political bureau," he said. "What we have failed to do in the past two years Morsi has achieved with his decree, uniting all of us.

"Our objection is to the decree irrespective of which president issued it. Killing continues by the Ministry of Interior and governments that do this must be removed. We cannot accept anymore transgressions, so this may escalate to peaceful civil disobedience."

On Monday night, after a meeting with the supreme judicial authority, the presidency issued a statement clarifying the decree and stating that Morsi would only use the new powers for "sovereign matters", which is presumed to mean anything that relates to national security.

A counter protest planned by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups was postponed to avoid confrontation with those inflamed by the perceived power grab.

Neither of these concessions was enough to stop the protests. "Morsi has no credibility anymore," said Mohamed Eissa Moussa, a merchant participating in one of the marches. "He must step down. Neither he nor the Muslim Brotherhood can be trusted anymore. He is not working for the revolution, but for himself and his brotherhood. Had he been different I would have supported him."

"He's appropriated the revolution and what's worse, he's claiming it's in the name of the revolution," said Ahmed Bakr, a member of Egypt's doctors union, "This is a pivotal moment, if we accept his decree the revolution is over. This isn't democracy and their adoption of such a decree is farcical. The Brotherhood have no shame and Morsi is tearing this country apart."

Tahrir square had almost filled up with people even before the separate marches had reached it early in the evening. Adapted anti-Mubarak chants calling for the heads of Morsi and the Brotherhood reverberated from the city's buildings.
However, the Twitter account of the Muslim Brotherhood's official English-language website, Ikhwanweb, seemed unperturbed with the numbers out in protest, first dismissing the "low turnout" in Tahrir and then stating that opposition forces pleased about 300,000 protesters should "brace [themselves] for [the] millions" that would come out in support of Morsi.

"On #Jan25, united Egyptns (Islamists, liberals,leftists) revolted against autocracy,supported by millions across country,today is politics," Ikhwanweb tweeted.

Morsi, recently emboldened on the international stage with his success in reaching a truce between Hamas and Israel, has defended his decree by stating that it was necessary to defend the revolution from remnants of the Mubarak regime, much to the chagrin of many of the protesters.

The number of fatalities in a week of unrest reached four on Tuesday with news of the death of Fathi Gharib, a member of the Socialist Popular Alliance party, who was reported to have died after inhaling tear gas.

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