Huge Egyptian crowds protest Morsy's power-grab
CAIRO – Egyptians filled Tahrir Square and battled police in side streets on Tuesday in a fifth day of nationwide protests against a presidential power grab.
The crowd, estimated at 200,000 to 300,000, was reminiscent of the 18-day uprising in 2011 that ended the 30-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak.
It sent a potent signal of opposition unity against President Mohamed Morsy's assumption of near-absolute power.
Waving red, white and black Egyptian flags, blocks-long throngs marched across the capital and converged in the square. There, thunderous chants of “The people want the downfall of the regime!” arose as protesters denounced Morsy and his Islamic-oriented Muslim Brotherhood.
Mohamed Soliman, 31, a student at Egypt's aviation academy, said the country “can't allow a second dictator. He is trying to get all the power in Egypt, like a semi-god president.”
“I am against the dictatorship of the Brotherhood, not just Morsy, because he is a puppet inside the organization,” said Ghali Shafiq, 33, a marketing executive. “This will keep the pressure going. This time, we have a lot of people who didn't come here before or since the revolution.”
Retired army officer Adel Maguid Sherif, 57, demanded Morsy's downfall “because he didn't achieve democracy or any of the demands of the revolution.”
“And, of course, the Brotherhood is not to be trusted,” Sherif said. “The Brotherhood wants to turn this country into a religious state.” He vowed to “stay here until there is democracy in Egypt.”
As he spoke, young boys passed with stickers on their shirts — “Down with the rule of the supreme guide,” a reference to Brotherhood leader Muhammed Badie.
Stone-throwers battled riot police on streets leading to the square, and one man apparently died from tear-gas asphyxiation.
Similar protests were reported around the country; violence in the industrial city of Mahalla left many hospitalized.
The long marches snaking toward Tahrir Square included a rare line from the upscale island-neighborhood of Zamalek — prompting one activist to shout, “Look, the ‘couch party' is starting to come out!”
In another parade of demonstrators that stretched for blocks, signs proclaimed “No to a new dictator” and “Our revolution is a revolution of freedom.”
Retired diplomat Mohamed El Baradei and Alaa Al Aswani, Egypt's most famous author, joined the marchers. Both have denounced Morsy's decrees claiming unlimited power and exempting himself from judicial review.
Baradei said he would not negotiate with “the new Pharoah.”
Asked Aswani: “Are we looking at a president determined to dismantle the machine of tyranny … or one who is retooling the machine of tyranny to serve his interests?”
Chants rose against Morsy, the Brotherhood, and an Islamist-dominated constitution-writing assembly that many fear is trying to install Islamic rule over Egypt.
The crowd was an unprecedented display of unity among Egypt's various political factions, with flags of liberal and leftist parties waving overhead.
Its size thrilled regime opponents.
“It's orgasmic!” shouted a grinning activist, Adam Awny. He wore a headband with the motto, “Down with the regime.”
“The next move is the presidential palace,” Awny said. “This turnout is beyond expectations. It says the tide is turning against Morsy, and he is lucky to survive more than a few months.”
Nearby, a young man shouted into a cellphone: “I am walking in the largest march in the world!”
Shady Moussa, 28, a dentist, said Morsy “is laying the foundation of dictatorship, but he unified the opposition. We're never going to be ‘Egyptistan,' ” — meaning a radical Islamic state.
Indeed, many demonstrators shouted: “Egypt will not be another Iran!”
As marchers flooded the downtown and their chants reverberated off buildings, a shopkeeper stunned by the crowd's size wondered aloud: “So who voted for Morsy?”
Considerable anger was voiced in the square against President Obama, who is viewed here as supporting Morsy. Many in the crowd said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland refused to clearly reject Morsy's new decrees as undemocratic.
Shafiq, the marketing executive who joined the protest, said Morsy “would not have done this without the praises of the United States.”
U.S. officials lavishly praised Morsy last week for helping to broker a tenuous cease-fire between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza — a day before he issued his sweeping decrees on Thursday.
In a Twitter statement, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo said Egyptians “made clear in the Jan. 25 (2011) revolution that they have had enough of dictatorship.”
Yet a posting on the Brotherhood's Twitter account suggested a coming battle. It said Morsy's opponents should “brace for millions in support of the elected prez (sic).”
Added a presidential spokeman: “No turning back, decree is staying, those not willing to reach a point of stability will be held accountable to God and history.”
Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at email@example.com.