Thousands flocked to Cairo’s central Tahrir square yesterday for a protest against Egypt’s president in a test of whether the opposition can rally support to force him to drop near-absolute powers.
Waving Egypt’s red, white and black flags and chanting slogans against president Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood, the protesters joined several hundreds who have been camping out at the square since Friday demanding the new laws he brought in be revoked.
Even as the crowds swelled, clashes erupted nearby between several hundred young protesters throwing stones and police firing tear gas on a street off Tahrir leading to the US Embassy. Clashes have been taking place at the site for several days fuelled by anger over police abuses, separately from the crisis over Mr Morsi.
The president’s declaration last week of new powers for himself has energised and – to a degree unified – the mostly 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 turnout for the protest is key to whether the opposition can keep a movement going against Mr Morsi. While the edicts last week sparked the protests, they have also been fuelled by anger over what critics see as the Brotherhood’s monopolising of power after its election victories the past year for parliament and the presidency.
Mr Morsi’s decrees, issued on Thursday, placed him above any kind of oversight, including that of the courts, until a new constitution is adopted and parliamentary elections are held – a timeline that stretches to mid-2013.
The opposition says that gives him near-dictatorial powers by neutralising the judiciary at a time when he already holds executive and legislative powers. Leading judges have also denounced the measures.
By early afternoon, nearly 20,000 people were at Tahrir, birthplace of the 18-day popular uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak’s regime nearly two years ago.