Egyptians challenge Mursi in nationwide protests

November 28, 2012 - 1:18:37 am
Fireworks in Cairo’s Tahrir Square yesterday, during an opposition demonstration against President Mohammed Mursi’s decree.

CAIRO: Tens of thousands Egyptians protested yesterday against President Mohammed 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 Cairo.

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 office.  “The people want to bring down the regime,” protesters in Tahrir chanted. Protesters also turned out in Alexandria, Suez, Minya and other Nile Delta cities.

The protest called by leftists, liberals and other groups deepened the crisis since Mursi 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 decisions. 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. The United States, a benefactor to Egypt’s military, has expressed concern about more turbulence in a country that has a peace treaty with Israel. 

“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.

Mursi’s move provoked a rebellion by judges and has battered confidence in an economy struggling after two years of turmoil. 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.

“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. Some scholars from the prestigious Al Azhar mosque and university joined yesterday’s protest.