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Egyptians in Tahrir Square to Protest Morsi's Decree Granting him Sweeping Powers

Egypt: protesters descend on Tahrir Square

Abdul-Rahman Hussein in Cairo,

Tuesday 27 November 2012 14.48 EST


More than 100,000 people took to the streets of Cairo on Tuesday to protest against a decree by the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, that grants him sweeping constitutional powers.

Columns of protesters from all over the Egyptian capital descended on Tahrir Square, the focus of the January 2011 revolution, in numbers that rivalled the rallies in the 18-day protest that toppled the authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak.

"Dictator" was the word being used to describe Morsi's new status after last Thursday's decree, which grants the immunity for the president from judicial review as well protecting a controversial constitutional assembly dominated by the group he is affiliated with, the Muslim Brotherhood.

"Today's protests are to overthrow oppression and stand up to the new dictatorship of Morsi, his decree and a constitution far removed from the revolution," said Haytham Mohamedeen of the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists movement. "He has to back down. The revolution and the streets will dictate what he will do. If he stands in the way of the revolution he will share the same fate as Mubarak."

Other marchers who took to the streets in numbers similar to those that toppled Mubarak called for Morsi not merely to rescind his decree but to step down from the presidency. The chant of the 2011 revolution "The people want to bring down the regime" was echoed in other major Egyptian cities, including Alexandria and Suez.

Police continuously fired teargas quite near to Tahrir Square while fighting between police and protesters raged nearby and people continued to arrive. Among them was Mohamed ElBaradei, the former IAEA chief who has taken on the role of co-ordinator of a national salvation front set up to unite opposition to the Morsi decree.

Rami Ghanem, of the National Front for Justice and Democracy, said Morsi's decree had galvanised and united Egypt's disparate opposition groups. "Most political movements have joined a salvation front with a united political bureau," he said. "What we have failed to do in the past two years, Morsi has achieved with his decree, uniting all of us.

"Our objection is to the decree, irrespective of which president issued it. Killing continues by the ministry of interior, and governments that do this must be removed. We cannot accept any more transgressions, so this may escalate to peaceful civil disobedience."

On Monday night, after a meeting with the supreme judicial authority, the presidency issued a statement clarifying the decree and stating that Morsi would use the new powers only for "sovereign matters", which is presumed to mean anything that relates to national security.

A counter protest planned by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups was postponed to avoid confrontation with those inflamed by the perceived power grab.

Neither of these concessions was enough to stop the protests. "Morsi has no credibility any more," said Mohamed Eissa Moussa, a merchant participating in one of the marches. "He must step down. Neither he nor the Muslim Brotherhood can be trusted any more. He is not working for the revolution but for himself and his brotherhood. Had he been different, I would have supported him."

"He has appropriated the revolution, and what's worse, he is claiming it is in the name of the revolution," said Ahmed Bakr, a member of Egypt's union for doctors. "This is a pivotal moment: if we accept his decree, the revolution is over. This isn't democracy, and their adoption of such a decree is farcical. The Brotherhood have no shame and Morsi is tearing this country apart."

Tahrir square was teeming with people even before the separate marches reached the area early in the evening. Adapted anti-Mubarak chants calling for the heads of Morsi and the Brotherhood reverberated from the city's buildings.

However, the Twitter account of the Muslim Brotherhood's official English-language website, Ikhwanweb, seemed unperturbed with the numbers out in protest, first dismissing the "low turnout" in Tahrir Square and then stating that opposition forces pleased about 300,000 protesters should brace themselves for the "millions" that would come out in support of Morsi.

"On #Jan25, united Egyptians (Islamists, liberals, leftists) revolted against autocracy, supported by millions across country, today is politics," Ikhwanweb tweeted.

Morsi, emboldened by his success on the international stage for reaching a truce between Hamas and Israel, has defended his decree by stating that it was necessary to defend the revolution from remnants of the Mubarak regime, much to the chagrin of many of protesters.

The number of fatalities in a week of unrest reached four on Tuesday, with news of the death of Fathi Gharib, a member of the Socialist Popular Alliance party, who was reported to have died after inhaling teargas.


Mohamed Morsi indicates judicial decree will be limited

Abdul-Rahman Hussein in Cairo and agencies

The Guardian, Monday 26 November 2012 16.34 EST

Anti-Morsi protesters stage a sit-in in Tahrir Square following constitutional changes ordered by the Egyptian president. Photograph: Andre Pain/EPA

Egypt's president has agreed that only his decisions related to "sovereign matters" would be protected from judicial review, his spokesman said, indicating he had accepted a judiciary-proposed compromise to try to defuse a crisis.

Mohamed Morsi had angered opponents last Thursday with a decree that expanded his powers and put any decision he took beyond legal oversight until parliament was in place. Senior judges proposed he limit that to "sovereign matters".

"The president said he had the utmost respect for the judicial authority and its members," Yasser Ali, his spokesman, told reporters. He said that, regarding the issue of immunity for presidential decisions: "What is intended is those that are linked to matters of sovereignty".

He added: "The article [in the decree] regarding retrials of past regime officials is dependent on the discovery of new evidence. Regarding the immunity of Morsi's decrees, that is a temporary measure until a constitution is in place and pertains only to what is known as 'sovereign matters' of elected bodies. Both the presidency and the judiciary are cautious for there not to be a confrontation between the executive and the judiciary."

Ali said there had "been no amendments to the decree."

The term "sovereign matters" is ambiguous but tends to mean issues referring to the executive branch of the government, especially foreign policy and national security, but in this case would also include constitutional matters, as Morsi holds legislative power in the absence of parliament. It would therefore extend to granting immunity from legal challenges to the constituent assembly and the upper house of parliament, the shura council, which remains in session.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama called for calm in Egypt and for the country to resolve differences over its constitutional impasse peacefully, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Morsi's decrees have forced the Obama administration to adopt two attitudes towards Morsi, who helped broker a ceasefire in the recent Gaza conflict that was backed by the United States.

Carney said Morsi had played an "important role" in bringing "about a ceasefire, so that lives could be saved and the possibility of moving forward on negotiations for a more enduring peace could be realised.

"Separately we've raised concerns about some of the decisions and declarations that were made on 22 November," he added.

"And we continue to engage with the Egyptians on this. And I think the important issue here is the Egyptian people want a government that reflects their will."

Egyptians remained braced for protests against Morsi due on Tuesday. Most schools will be closed and universities and many workplaces will wrap up early in anticipation of protest marches, which are expected to draw tens of thousands to the streets. But protesters camped out in Tahrir Square, the heart of the uprising that unseated Hosni Mubarak almost two years ago, said they would not leave until the decree was scrapped entirely.

"We came out in order to cancel the constitutional declaration completely," said Mohamed Fadel, who was speaking among the tents that have been erected in the centre of the square.

However the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups said they would postpone planned counter-demonstrations to "prevent bloodshed and divisions" in the country.

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