CAIRO – More than 100,000 Egyptians protested outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Tuesday, fueling tensions over Islamist leader Mohammed Morsi’s seizure of nearly unrestricted powers and the adoption by his allies of a controversial draft constitution.
The outpouring of anger across the Egyptian capital, the Mediterranean port of Alexandria and a string of other cities pointed to a prolonged standoff between the president and a newly united opposition.
Morsi’s opponents, long fractured by bickering and competing egos, have been re-energized since he announced decrees last month that place him above oversight of any kind, including by the courts, and provide immunity to two key bodies dominated by his allies: The 100-member panel drafting the constitution and parliament’s upper chamber.
The large turnout in Tuesday’s protests – dubbed “The Last Warning” by organizers – 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 to demand that Morsi rescind the decrees.
The huge scale of the protests have dealt a blow to the legitimacy of the new constitution, which Morsi’s opponents contend allows religious authorities too much influence over legislation, threatens to restrict freedom of expression and opens the door to Islamist control over day-to-day life.
What the revived opposition has yet to make clear is what it will do next: campaign for a “no” vote on the draft constitution in a nationwide referendum set for Dec. 15, or call on Egyptians to boycott the vote.
Already, the country’s powerful judges have said they will not take on their customary role of overseeing the vote, thus robbing it of much of its legitimacy.
Morsi was in the presidential palace conducting business as usual as the protesters gathered outside. He left for home through a back door as the crowds continued to swell, according to a presidential official.
The official said Morsi left on the advice of security officials to head off “possible dangers” and to calm the protesters. Morsi’s spokesman, however, said the president left the palace at the end of his normal work day, through the door he routinely uses.