Over 200,000 Fill Cairo’s Tahrir Square to Protest Morsi Power Grab; Clashing With Police

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More than 200.000 filled Cairo’s Tahrir square on Tuesday to protest against  Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in escalating unrest over decrees that granted  him near absolute 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.

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.

A 52-year old man died after inhaling tear gas, becoming the second person to  die since the protests began last week, Reuters reports.

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.

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.

Reda Hassan, owner of a car parts shop, said he voted for Morsi in this past  summer’s election, but “he fooled us. He did nothing since he was elected. …  Now Tahrir says go away.”

A fellow protester, Saad Salem Nada, said, “I am a Muslim and he made me hate  Muslims because of the dictatorship in the name of religion. In the past, we had  one Mubarak, now we have hundreds,” referring to the Brotherhood.

In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, some 15,000 anti-Morsi protesters  gathered outside the main court at the center of the ancient city. Thousands of  Morsi supporters arrived at the same spot later and there were scuffles between  the two sides. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

On Monday, Morsi met with the nation’s top judges and tried to win their  acceptance of his decrees. But the move was dismissed by many in the opposition  and the judiciary as providing no real concessions.

Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali, said Morsi told the judges that he acted  within his rights as the nation’s sole source of legislation, assuring them that  the decrees were temporary and did not in any way infringe on the judiciary. He  underlined repeatedly that the president had no plans to change or amend his  decrees.

According to a presidential statement late Monday, Morsi told the judges that  his decree meant that any decisions he makes on “issues of sovereignty” are  immune from judicial review.

The vaguely worded statement did not define those issues, but they were  widely interpreted to cover declaration of war, imposition of martial law,  breaking diplomatic relations with a foreign nation or dismissing a Cabinet.  Morsi’s original edict, however, explicitly gives immunity to all his decisions  and there was no sign it had been changed.

Monday’s presidential statement did not touch on the immunity that Morsi gave  the constitutional assembly or the upper chamber of parliament, known as the  Shura Council. It also did not affect the edict that the president can take any  measures he sees as necessary to stop threats to the revolution, stability or  public institutions. Many see that edict as granting Morsi unlimited emergency  powers.

The Shura Council does not have lawmaking authorities but, in the absence of  the more powerful lower chamber, the People’s Assembly, it is the only popularly  elected, national body where the Brotherhood and other Islamists have a  majority. The People’s Assembly was dissolved by a court ruling in June.

Rights lawyers and activists, however, dismissed Morsi’s assurances as an  attempt to defuse the crisis without offering concrete concessions.

One of the lawyers, Ahmed Ragheb, described the presidential statement and  Ali’s comments as “playing with words.”

“This is not what Egyptians are objecting to and protesting about,” he said.  “If the president wanted to resolve the crisis, there should be an amendment to  his constitutional declaration.”

On Tuesday, the influential Judges’ Club, a sort of union led by an outspoken  Morsi critic, vowed in a statement to escalate its resistance to the decrees.  Judges and prosecutors in some parts of the country held a strike for a third  day, leaving many courtrooms empty across the nation.

Source: Fox News

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