Egypt’s opposition resolved to stand firm against President Mohamed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood, in a showdown over his self-decreed powers that dragged the nation’s top court into the political struggle.
Amid renewed clashes between protesters and police in central Cairo, the Supreme Constitutional Court said it was “saddened” when Mursi joined in attacks on its justices. Maher Sami, the court’s deputy chief, denied allegations that it had been politically motivated when it ruled in June to invalidate the Islamist-dominated parliament’s lower house.
“The court will not be intimidated by threats, warnings or blackmail and will not succumb to any pressures against it,” Sami said in a statement read out on television. “It’s ready to face all of this, however high the price may be, even if it costs the lives of its judges.”
The comments by the court, which is due on Dec. 2 to hear a case testing the legitimacy of the panel drafting Egypt’s constitution, followed a night of mass demonstrations in the capital. In scenes reminiscent of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak, tens of thousands of secularists and young activists chanted against Mursi in Tahrir Square, demanding he rescind a decree shielding his decisions from the judiciary. The country’s top appeals court said it was suspending work until the decree was repealed.
The Brotherhood, which called off a counter-rally by its supporters planned for yesterday, will hold demonstrations in support of Mursi on Dec. 1, said Ahmed Sobea, media adviser to the group’s political arm.
Yesterday’s rally, billed by the participants as protecting the aims of last year’s uprising, tests the ability of opposition groups to sustain unity. Their diverging interests and failure to mobilize supporters had threatened to render them irrelevant amid the political ascent of Mursi and the Brotherhood, which fielded him for the presidency earlier this year.
“The best thing Mursi has done to revive the revolution was the decree,” Tarek Youssef, an accountant, said in an interview in the square yesterday. “Some people had been misled to believe he can be a democratic president and steer the country toward a better future. His decree uncovered his dictatorial ways.”
Months of growing suspicion among secularists and other Mursi critics, fed by disputes over the Islamists’ role in drafting the new constitution, boiled over after the presidential decree was announced Nov. 22. The decision was seen by the opposition and many judges as effectively sidelining the judiciary. Opposition figures including Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei said Mursi had become a “pharaoh.” Others in Tahrir said Mursi was now a dictator like Mubarak.
Fliers issued by several groups and distributed at the rally said the protests would continue. The banner headline in today’s Al-Akhbar newspaper read: “The Revolution Returns to the Square.”
While Mursi has argued the decree was necessary to safeguard the revolution, many activists maintain the Islamists were late-comers to last year’s uprising and used it to gain power.
A Brotherhood headquarters in Alexandria was stormed yesterday, according to the group. Clashes between its members and other protesters flared in other cities, including the Nile Delta town of Mahala where almost 130 people were injured. The government said it will react “firmly” with “rioters” and anyone who attacks buildings, the Cabinet said in a statement on its official website.
At least 260 people were injured and one died in the overnight protests across the country, the Health Ministry said in a statement published by the state-run Middle East News Agency.
Mursi tried to calm tensions, with his spokesman stressing the decree was only temporary only until a new constitution was finished and parliamentary elections held. In addition, it only applied to “sovereign” matters, presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said without clarifying what that covered.
Members of the assembly writing the constitution will start voting on a draft of the new charter tomorrow, MENA reported. The head of the committee, Hossam el-Gheriany, reiterated a call for the return of members who have withdrawn from the body in protest, it said.
The protesters included members of a broad spectrum of political parties and groups, including the Free Egyptians that was founded by billionaire Naguib Sawiris, as well as the April 6 youth group movement, the Social Democrats, the Popular Alliance and the Egyptian Press Syndicate.
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