Egypt On The Brink Again: Morsi Returns To Presidential Palace After Violent Protests Against his Regime

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Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi returned to the presidential palace  Wednesday after a violent protest of over 100,000 people the night before had  forced him to leave the building.

An Egyptian official says about 300 opposition supporters are camped out in  front of the palace’s main gate, but Morsi and his aides routinely use other  gates to enter. Traffic was reportedly flowing normally around the area that had  been filled with several thousand demonstrators the night before.

Morsi left the palace Tuesday as violence erupted between police and at least  100,000 protesters gathered in Cairo.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood called for a rival demonstration Wednesday  to counter Morsi’s opponents.

Egyptian riot police stand guard behind barbed wire while protesters chant anti Muslim Brotherhood slogans, not pictured, during a demonstration in front of the presidential palace, in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

The call for the rally has been posted on the official Facebook page of the  Brotherhood’s party, saying it’s a bid to underscore Morsi’s legitimacy as an  elected leader.

In a brief outburst, police fired tear gas to stop protesters approaching the  palace in the capital’s Heliopolis district. Morsi was in the palace conducting  business as usual while the protesters gathered outside. But he left for home  through a back door when the crowds “grew bigger,” according to a presidential  official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to  speak to the media.

The official said Morsi left on the advice of security officials at the  palace and to head off “possible dangers” and to calm protesters. Morsi’s  spokesman, however, said the president left the palace at the end of his work  schedule through the door he routinely uses.

The violence erupted when protesters pushed aside a barricade topped with  barbed wire several hundred yards from the palace walls. Police fired tear gas,  and then retreated. With that barricade removed, protesters moved closer to the  palace’s walls, with police apparently choosing not to try and push the crowds  back.

Soon afterwards, police abandoned the rest of the barricades, allowing the  crowds to surge ahead to the walls of the palace complex. But there were no  attempts to storm the palace, guarded inside by the army’s Republican Guard.

The brief outburst of violence left 18 people injured, none seriously,  according to the official MENA news agency.

Protesters gathered as tensions grew over Morsi’s seizure of nearly  unrestricted powers and a draft constitution hurriedly adopted by his  allies.

Crowds around the capital and in the coastal city of Alexandria were still  swelling several hours after nightfall. The large turnout signaled sustained  momentum for the opposition, which brought out at least 200,000 protesters to  Cairo’s Tahrir Square a week ago and a comparable number on Friday. They are  demanding the Morsi rescind decrees that placed him above judicial  oversight.

Protesters also commandeered two police vans, climbing atop the armored  vehicles to jubilantly wave Egypt’s red, white and black flag and chant against  Morsi. Nearly two hours into the demonstration, protesters were mingling freely  with the black-clad riot police, with many waving the flag and chanting against  Morsi.

There were as many as 100,000 protesters in the immediate vicinity of the  palace and the wide thoroughfare that runs by it. Thousands more filled side  streets leading off the area.

Many in the crowd were chanting “erhal, erhal,” Arabic for “leave, leave” and  “the people want to topple the regime” — two well-known chants from the  2010-2011 Arab Spring revolts that toppled Mubarak and other Middle Eastern and  North African rulers.

In Alexandria, some 10,000 opponents of Morsi gathered in the center of the  country’s second largest metropolis. They chanted slogans against the leader and  his Islamic fundamentalist group, the Muslim Brotherhood.

The protests were dubbed “The Last Warning” by organizers amid rising anger  over the draft charter and decrees issued by Morsi giving himself sweeping  powers that placed him above judicial oversight. Morsi called for a nationwide  referendum on the draft constitution on Dec. 15.

It is Egypt’s worst political crisis since the ouster nearly two years  ago of authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak. The country has been divided into  two camps: Morsi and the Brotherhood, as well as ultraconservative Salafi  Islamists, versus youth groups, liberal parties and large sectors of the  public.

Tens of thousands also gathered in Cairo’s downtown Tahrir Square, miles away  from the palace, to join several hundred who have been camping out there for  nearly two weeks. There were other large protests around the city separate from  the one outside the palace.

Smaller protests by Morsi opponents were staged in the southern city of  Assiut, an Islamists stronghold, and the industrial city of Mahallah north of  Cairo as well as Suez.

“Freedom or we die,” chanted a crowd of several hundred outside a mosque in  the Abbasiyah district. “Mohammed Morsi illegitimate! Brotherhood!  Illegitimate!” they also yelled.

“This is the last warning before we lay siege to the presidential palace,”  said Mahmoud Hashim, a 21-year-old student from the city of Suez on the Red Sea.  “We want the presidential decrees cancelled.”

Several hundred protesters also gathered outside Morsi’s residence in an  upscale suburb.

“Down with the sons of dogs. We are the power and we are the people,” they  chanted.

Morsi, who narrowly won the presidency in a June election, appeared to  be in no mood for compromise.

A statement by his office said he met Tuesday with his deputy, prime minister  and several top Cabinet members to discuss preparations for the referendum. The  statement suggested business as usual at the palace, despite the mass rally  outside its doors.

The Islamists responded to the mass opposition protests last week by sending  hundreds of thousands of supporters into Cairo’s twin city of Giza on Saturday  and across much of the country. Thousands also besieged Egypt’s highest court,  the Supreme Constitutional Court.

The court had been widely expected Sunday to declare the constitutional  assembly that passed the draft charter on Friday illegitimate and to disband  parliament’s upper house, the Shura Council. Instead, the judges went on strike  after they found their building under siege by protesters.

The opposition has yet to say whether it intends to focus its energy on  rallying support for a boycott of the Dec. 15 vote or defeating the draft with a  “no” vote.

“We haven’t made any decisions yet, but I’m leaning against a boycott and  toward voting `no,”‘ said Hossam al-Hamalawy of the Socialist Revolutionaries, a  key group behind last year’s uprising. “We want a (new) constituent assembly  that represents the people and we keep up the pressure on Morsi.”

The judges’ strikes were part of a planned campaign of civil disobedience  that could spread to other industries.

On Tuesday, at least eight influential dailies, a mix of opposition party  mouthpieces and independent publications, suspended publication for a day to  protest against what many journalists see as the restrictions on freedom of  expression in the draft constitution.

The country’s privately owned TV networks planned their own protest  Wednesday, when they will blacken their screens all day.

Morsi’s Nov. 22 decrees placed him above oversight of any kind, including the  courts. The constitutional panel then rushed through a draft constitution  without the participation of representatives of liberals and Christians. Only  four women, all Islamists, attended the marathon, all-night session.

The charter has been criticized for not protecting the rights of women and  minority groups, and many journalists see it as restricting freedom of  expression. Critics also say it empowers Islamic religious clerics by giving  them a say over legislation, while some articles were seen as tailored to get  rid of Islamists’ enemies.

Source: Fox News

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