Egypt: Protesters return to Tahrir over Morsi’s radical decree

Over 100,000 protestors in Tahrir Square. Picture: Reuters
Over 100,000 protestors in Tahrir Square. Picture: Reuters
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MORE than 100,000 people gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo yesterday to demonstrate against a decree issued by president Mohammed Morsi that grants him extensive powers.

Crowds waved flags and chanted, “The people demand the fall of the leader”, as Egyptians of all ages took to the streets and marched towards the square in central Cairo which formed the epicentre of the protests against former president Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled last year.

Opponents have accused Mr Morsi of behaving like a modern pharaoh. The presidential decree gives him near dictatorial powers and immunity from judicial oversight until a new constitution is in place.

It also bans the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood-­dominated constituent assembly, the body tasked with drafting Egypt’s new constitution, ensuring a heavy Islamist influence on the draft remains.

Mr Morsi has said he has used the declaration to carry out key demands of the revolution, primarily dismissing Egypt’s Mubarak-era state prosecutor and demanding the retrial of those charged with killing protesters during last year’s revolution.

One protester, Magdy Iskander, a professor at Cairo University, said: “We don’t want Morsi to be in control of everything, we want a constitution that represents all the Egyptian people.”

Many fear the presidential decree is a bid by the Muslim Brotherhood to tighten its grip on power and ensure it can dominate the constitution.

“Even if we agree with his decisions, this is not the way to achieve his goals,” said Amal Sherif, who works as a cleaner. “The Muslim Brotherhood just want to hold on to power.”

Several liberal and leftist groups united to take part in yesterday’s mass protest, hoping to rally enough support to force Egypt’s Islamist president to retract the decree.

In the centre of the square, dozens of tents have been set up where some protesters have camped out since the decree was issued last Thursday. They have vowed to stay until the constitutional declaration is withdrawn.

“I came to Tahrir today because I believe in democracy – it’s the same reason I came down to the square before,” said Muhab Wahby, referring to the mass uprising last year that overthrew Mubarak. “The Muslim Brotherhood have proved they can’t be trusted,” he added

Young demonstrators and riot police fought running battles on a street near Tahrir Square yesterday. At least two people have been killed in the last week. Protesters threw stones at security forces, who responded by firing tear gas.

There have been clashes across the country since Mr Morsi’s decree was announced. On Sunday, a teenager was killed in the Nile Delta city of Damanhour when anti-government protesters stormed the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood in the city. Hundreds more people have been injured.

A day later, Mr Morsi sought to defuse the crisis by meeting with the judiciary to assure them the scope of his new powers is restricted. However, the two sides failed to reach a compromise and the decree remains unchanged.

“Things will get worse before they get better,” said Prof Iskander. “I expect much more blood will be shed before things change.”