Egypt’s opposition steeled itself for standoffs with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood amid violence after more than 200,000 rallied in the Islamist leader’s biggest test to date.
Security officials fired tear gas at about 200 protesters yesterday in scenes reminiscent of the uprising that ousted former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Tens of thousands of secularists and activists chanted overnight against Morsi in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, demanding he rescind a decree shielding his decisions from the judiciary. Some called for his ouster, while smaller protests and clashes with Brotherhood members reverberated around Egypt.
“The best thing Morsi has done to revive the revolution was the decree,” said Tarek Youssef, 41.
The rally, billed by the participants as protecting the aims of the revolution, marks the start of a test of the opposition’s ability to sustain unity. The groups’ diverging interests and failure to mobilize supporters had threatened to render them irrelevant.
Fliers issued by several groups and distributed at the rally said the protests would continue, a promise echoed in a statement by some parties that was carried on the state-run Middle East News Agency.
Months of growing suspicion among secularists and Morsi critics, fed in part by disputes over the Islamists’ role in drafting the new constitution, boiled over after Morsi’s decree was announced on Thursday last week. The decision was seen by the opposition and many judges as effectively sidelining the judiciary, after an earlier edict expropriated legislative powers.
The US is closely following the drama unfolding in Egypt, US officials said on Tuesday.
The situation was evolving, US Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, seeking to downplay fears that Morsi was morphing into an autocrat and highlighting that Morsi had held talks with the judiciary and other Egyptian leaders since issuing the decree.
The US embassy in Cairo seemed to suggest that Egypt was on the path to a new dictatorship.
“The Egyptian people made clear in the January 25th revolution that they have had enough of dictatorship,” the embassy said in a message on its Twitter account.
White House spokesman Jay Carney added that the “current constitutional impasse is an internal Egyptian situation that can only be resolved by the Egyptian people, through peaceful democratic dialogue.”
Egypt was working through a very “murky legal period,” Nuland said, calling for “national unity around a way forward.”
She hinted that if Egypt appeared to be veering off the democratic course, some international aid to the country could be at stake.
The IMF on Tuesday said Egypt can still get its US$4.8 billion loan agreed last week if there is “no major change” in its reform commitments.