Hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered at Egypt’s presidential palace and in Tahrir Square Tuesday to protest a draft constitution and a recent decree by President Mohamed Morsi giving him sweeping powers.
“This constitution is all wrong. It violates freedoms and was only created by the Brotherhood and Salafists for their own benefit,” said Hanan Sabri, a housewife, as she walked to Tahrir Square, the site of mass protests against the recently issued draft constitution.
The Constituent Assembly, which wrote the draft charter, is accused of having been dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood – from which President Morsi hails – and Salafist groups. The assembly has also been marred by several withdrawals, including by representatives of the Coptic Church, labourers, journalists and farmers.
The draft constitution itself is seen by critics as unrepresentative of Egyptians at large and as falling short on the freedoms and social benefits called for in the 25 January Revolution. Many articles are also criticised for being vague.
“There is an article that states that society should be ‘self-critical.’ What does that mean? It means that we’ll find people bothering us for not liking what we wear,” added Sabri.
The draft constitution was rushed through in a final marathon session during which it was approved by assembly members, cutting short an additional two-month period set aside for discussion of its contents. Morsi was then presented with the document, after which he announced it would be put to a nationwide referendum on 15 December.
Thousands gathered in Tahrir Square on Tuesday while hundreds of thousands made their way to the presidential palace in Cairo’s Heliopolis district to voice opposition to the draft charter.
Two major marches from the Abassiya and Madinet Nasr districts close to Heliopolis brought the bulk of protests to the door of the palace. Another rally from Ain Shams University merged with a rally from Rabaa Al-Adawaiya.
The marches began at 4pm and maintained a peaceful nature, with protesters chanting ‘Down with Morsi, down with the rule of the Supreme Guide,’ as they snaked through the streets leading to the palace.
Amany Moussa – walking in the Madinet Nasr rally, which was launched from the Rabaa El Adaweya Mosque – complained that Egypt had finally seen some stability in recent months, but Morsi’s constitutional decree had again led to violence.
Before a date for the constitutional referendum was set, the president had issued a constitutional declaration that shields his decisions from judicial oversight and protects the Constituent Assembly and Shura Council from dissolution by court order.
The declaration was deemed “dictatorial” by the opposition, which filled Tahrir Square twice in protests last week.
Islamist forces then held a rival protest on Saturday in defence of Morsi’s decree. Dubbed the “Day of Legitimacy and Sharia,” hundreds of thousands of Islamists gathered at Cairo University to back the president.
“I know he’s an elected president, but I think he lost his legitimacy,” Moussa said.
“There are various articles in the constitution that violate the values of the Egyptian revolution, especially articles allowing civilians to be put on trial in military courts,” she said.
“This is the first time I join a protest,” Ahmed Ibrahim, another protester at the rally, told Ahram Online. “I am so angry, I feel that the Muslim Brotherhood are dominating everything and taking complete control of the country.”
Participating in the Abassiya march that set out from Cairo’s Al-Nour Mosque, Shaimaa – an independent activist in her twenties – travelled from Suez to join the march to denounce Morsi’s constitutional declaration.
“We are here to attend the protest; we’ve taken part in all major protests happening in Cairo since the 25 January Revolution,” she said, as she arrived with thousands of others in the vicinity of the presidential palace.
Like Ibrahim, Shaimaa condemned the recently finalised draft constitution as being “a constitution made only for the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Shaimaa added that she came only to protest peacefully, but intended to stay if any protesters were assaulted.
As protesters reached the presidential palace, they were met with a cordon of barbed wire and security personnel. A few minutes later, teargas was fired from the security side, although soldiers later retreated, opening the way in Merghany Street for protesters to pass.
As they approached the main gate, protesters chanted, “The people want to topple the regime,” and, “We will not leave, he will leave.”
“Down with the Supreme Guide [of the Muslim Brotherhood],” they yelled, while waving Egyptian flags and banners that read: “We reject splitting the country in two using religion,” and, “We reject the constitutional declaration.”
Protesters also waved flags bearing the images of slain protesters, including Sheikh Emad Effat – who died during clashes between military police and protesters during a December 2011 sit-in – and Sayid Belal, a Salafist activist tortured to death in 2010 under the ousted Mubarak regime.
Challenges face the looming constitutional referendum, as Egypt’s Judges Club announced it would boycott the poll – and refrain from supervising polling stations as it usually does – to protest what it calls Morsi’s “power grab” decree, which they say impinges on its independence.
In reaction to the Judges Club stance, Egypt’s Supreme Judicial Council announced on Monday that it would allocate judges and members of the prosecution to supervise the referendum despite the strike action.
Tuesday evening also witnessed protests in Alexandria, Mansoura, Mahalla, Hurghada, Luxor, Assiut, Minya and Ismailia against the draft constitution and constitutional declaration. According to activists, thousands of protesters took the streets in huge rallies in Alexandria.