Tens of thousands protest Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Egypt

| Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, 7:18 p.m.

CAIRO – Crowds across Egypt chanted down a Muslim Brotherhood-led government on Friday, two years after the start of an uprising that ended the 30-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak.

Clashes here and elsewhere injured more than 250 people. Four deaths were reported in the city of Suez.

Tens of thousands filled Cairo's Tahrir Square – epicenter of the 2011 revolt – to condemn Mubarak's successor, Muhammed Morsy.

On cement block-barricaded streets, young men heaved rocks and Molotov cocktails at police firing tear gas and birdshot.

Egypt's most influential novelist, Ala'a Al Aswany, said “the Brotherhood can't impose their constitution on us” as he joined marchers heading to the square.

In December, Egyptians adopted a controversial constitution written by a Brotherhood-dominated panel. Morsy endorsed it after first claiming near-dictatorial powers as president.

His power-grab united a fractious opposition into the National Salvation Front, led by Nobel laureate and former U.N. atomic-weapons chief Mohamad El Baradei.

Aswany accused Morsy of “violating the independence of the judiciary” but said he is “optimistic we will overcome all this.”

Karim Kholy, 33, a dentist, said he joined the protests “to show the Brotherhood that we are a significant part of the population that doesn't share their view for the future of Egypt.”

“Morsy is not delivering, and the Muslim Brotherhood's religious image is just geared towards getting votes and not showing ethical values,” he said.

Crowds chanted against Morsy and Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie.

“None of the revolution's goals have been met,” said protester Shadi Moussa, 28. “There is no justice and no freedom. The Muslim Brotherhood is clamping down on the press.

“I would rather die for my freedoms than worry about it,” he declared.

Opposition leader Ziad El Elimi, 32, a former parliamentarian, said the new constitution is worse than Mubarak-era laws. “We think the old regime is continuing under the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said.

Women and Christians are especially concerned about the Islamic-leaning constitution, which protester Lamia Hassan said “neglects women.”

One sign in Tahrir proclaimed: “As the prophet said, if you rule Christians, you must treat them well.”

Radical Islamists increasingly have attacked Christians in the past two years, burning homes or churches and forcing them to flee some villages.

Muhammed Wahdan, 52, an education ministry worker, held a sign echoing the growing frustration with U.S. policy that the opposition sees as backing the Brotherhood. It read: “From Tahrir Square to the U.S. media … Obama you jerk, Muslim Brotherhood are killing Egyptians.”

“I am well aware that Obama and the American administration are the ones who enabled the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said. “I want to tell Obama that the Muslim Brotherhood tricked you.”

He said that, under the Brotherhood, “Egypt will never have stability, nor will the region. The Palestinian crisis will never be solved, and hostility will increase against Israel and the Americans.”

In Tahrir, vendors hawked Egyptian flags, white “Vendetta” masks, sweet potatoes and pink cotton candy, as volunteers distributed white medical masks to ward off tear gas.

Young protesters in black face scarves, gloves and hooded jackets were part of a new anarchist group, the Black Bloc, which has vowed to battle “the Brotherhood's militia.”

A scraggly bearded Ramadan Wahdan, 40, said he went to the square to demand the release of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman from a U.S. prison.

Rahman, known as “the blind sheikh,” was convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and other attacks in New York. President Morsy has said he will ask for Rahman's release when he meets President Obama in Washington in March.

“He was accused falsely and he is a blind man and a great scholar,” Wahdan said of the imprisoned Egyptian cleric.

Safwan Ali, a professor of Arabic literature at Ain Shams University, vehemently disagreed. “Tahrir Square is not asking for the release of Omar Abdel Rahman!” he shouted.

As he did, a man walked by, calling: “Have you seen a lost child called Morsy?”

Violence escalated with nightfall; protesters blocked a bridge and a subway line, and scattered attacks on women were reported.

In the industrial city of Mahalla, protesters blocked a rail line and torched the governor's office. Brotherhood offices were attacked, looted or burned in several cities, including Ismailia, birthplace of the Islamic-based movement 85 years ago.

“Unless a genuine political breakthrough takes place, I worry of real, long street violence between pro- and anti-Morsy factions and people,” tweeted Egyptian writer Bassam Sabry.

Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at bhiel@tribweb.com.

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