Masses of Egyptian protesters clash with police outside presidential palace

Masses of Egyptian protesters clash with police outside presidential palace | The Times of Israel.

( Do not go gentle into that good night…  Rage, rage against the dying of the light. -  JW )

December 4, 2012, 7:15 pm 1
Egyptian protesters chant anti-Muslim Brotherhood slogans during a rally in front of the presidential palace, in Cairo, Egypt on Tuesday. (photo credit: AP/Nasser Nasser)

Egyptian protesters chant anti-Muslim Brotherhood slogans during a rally in front of the presidential palace, in Cairo, Egypt on Tuesday. (photo credit: AP/Nasser Nasser)

Tens of thousands of Egyptians marched on the presidential palace on Tuesday to protest the assumption by the nation’s Islamist president of nearly unrestricted powers and a draft constitution hurriedly adopted by his allies.

Police fired tear gas at protesters who attempted to get past the guards surrounding Mohammed Morsi’s presidential palace, but the protesters broke through nonetheless. The demonstrators clanged incessantly on lampposts, waved Egyptian flags and held aloft images of Morsi clad in a turban and Nazi uniform with the word “void” written in Arabic underneath.

Shortly after the clashes began, Morsi reportedly left the presidential palace, according to Reuters.

The march came amid rising anger over the draft charter and decrees issued by Morsi giving himself sweeping powers. Morsi called for a nationwide referendum on the draft constitution on December 15.

In the coastal city of Alexandria, some 10,000 opponents of Morsi gathered in the center of the country’s second-largest metropolis. They chanted slogans against the Egyptian leader and his Muslim Brotherhood party.

It is Egypt’s worst political crisis since the ouster nearly two years ago of authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak. The country has been divided into two camps: Morsi and his fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, as well as ultraconservative Salafi Islamists, versus youth groups, liberal parties and large sectors of the public.

Hundreds of riot police in black deployed around the Itihadiya palace in Cairo’s district of Heliopolis. Barbed wire was placed outside the complex, and side roads leading to it were blocked to traffic. Protesters had gathered at Cairo’s Tahrir square and several other points not far from the palace to march to the presidential complex.

“Freedom or we die,” chanted a crowd of several hundred outside a mosque in the Abbasiyah district. “Mohammed Morsi! Illegitimate! Brotherhood! Illegitimate!” they also yelled.

“This is the last warning before we lay siege to the presidential palace,” said Mahmoud Hashim, a 21-year-old student from the city of Suez on the Red Sea. “We want the presidential decrees canceled.”

Several hundred protesters also gathered outside Morsi’s residence in an upscale suburb not far from the Itihadiya. “Down with the sons of dogs. We are the power and we are the people,” they chanted.

Morsi, who narrowly won the presidency in a June election, appeared to be in no mood for compromise.

A statement by his office said the Egyptian leader met on Tuesday with his deputy, prime minister and several top cabinet members to discuss preparations for the referendum. The statement appeared also to suggest that it was business as usual at the presidential palace despite the rally.

The large turnout signaled sustained momentum for the opposition, which brought out at least 200,000 protesters to Cairo’s Tahrir Square a week ago and a comparable number on Friday, demanding that Morsi’s decrees be rescinded. Hundreds of protesters also have camped out in Tahrir, birthplace of last year’s uprising, for close to two weeks.

The Islamists responded by sending hundreds of thousands of supporters into Cairo’s twin city of Giza on Saturday and across much of the country. Thousands also imposed a siege on Egypt’s highest court, the Supreme Constitutional Court.

The opposition has yet to say whether it intends to focus its energy on rallying support for a boycott of the December 15 vote or defeating the draft with a “no” vote.

“We haven’t made any decisions yet, but I’m leaning against a boycott and toward voting ‘no,’” said Hossam al-Hamalawy of the Socialist Revolutionaries, a key group behind last year’s uprising. “We want a [new] constituent assembly that represents the people and we keep up the pressure on Morsi.”

The strikes were part of a planned campaign of civil disobedience that could bring in other industries.

On Tuesday, at least eight influential dailies, a mix of opposition party mouthpieces and independent publications, suspended publication for a day to protest against what many journalists see as the restrictions on freedom of expression in the draft constitution.

The country’s privately owned TV networks planned their own protest Wednesday, when they will blacken their screens all day.

Morsi’s November 22 decrees placed him above oversight of any kind, including the courts. The constitutional panel then rushed through a draft constitution without the participation of representatives of liberals and Christians. Only four women, all Islamists, attended the marathon, all-night session.

The charter has been criticized for not protecting the rights of women and minority groups, and many journalists see it as restricting freedom of expression. Critics also say it empowers Islamic religious clerics by giving them a say over legislation, while some articles were seen as tailored to get rid of Islamists’ enemies.

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