CAIRO (AFP) – Opponents of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi marched on the presidential palace on Tuesday to protest his power grab and a controversial draft charter, as the country plunged deeper into crisis.
Thousands took to the streets waving Egyptian flags, chanting for the downfall of the regime and denouncing the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi emerged, for having “sold the revolution” that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year.
A November 22 decree issued by Morsi expanding his powers and enabling him to put to a mid-December referendum a draft constitution — rejected by liberals, leftists and Christians — has sparked strikes and deadly protests.
“I’m not going to vote. Morsi and the committee (drafting the constitution) are void,” said protester Mohammed.
The charter has become the focal point of a political and ideological battle in Egypt between Islamists and the largely secular-leaning opposition.
“Egypt is a country where all religions should live together. I love God’s law and Sharia (Islamic law) but I will vote against the constitution because it has split the people,” said Bassam Ali Mohammed, a professor of Islamic law, as he neared the presidential palace.
Thousands also gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square — where protesters have been camping out since Morsi issued his decree — with the numbers expected to swell later in the evening.
Morsi’s decree not only placed his decisions beyond judicial oversight but also barred any judicial body from dissolving the Islamist-dominated panel that drafted and approved the new constitution, sparking a conflict with the country’s judges.
Security measures were tightened around the capital, with some schools and businesses closing on Tuesday.
Independent and opposition newspapers refused to publish their Tuesday editions in protest at a lack of press freedom in the constitution.
The move was in order to “stand up to tyranny,” independent daily Al-Tahrir said on its website.
“The Egyptian Independent objects to continued restrictions on media liberties, especially after hundreds of Egyptians gave their lives for freedom,” read a message on that newspaper’s website, its only viewable content on Tuesday.
As he faces his worst crisis since taking office in June, Morsi insists the measures are aimed at ending a tumultuous transition following the popular uprising that toppled Mubarak in early 2011.
But his opponents have accused him of choosing the same path of autocracy that finally cost Mubarak his presidency.
The decision to go to a referendum on December 15 caused further upheaval, including within the judiciary itself.
On Monday, the Supreme Judicial Council said it would ensure judicial supervision of the referendum, despite calls for a boycott by some of their colleagues including the influential Judges Club, an association that represents judges nationwide.
On Tuesday, the head of the Judges Club, Ahmed al-Zind, stuck by his group’s decision to boycott the vote and said judges who supervise the referendum “would never be forgiven.”
He said the number of judges who refused to supervise the election far outweighed those who agreed to take part.
The constitution itself has been criticised for failing to protect key rights and for paving the way to a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
Leading dissident and former Arab League chief Amr Mussa, who walked out of the constitution panel, said the charter did not reflect freedoms that should be guaranteed in the 21st century.
“The document has to be something that makes life easier for Egyptians … not something that requires difficult interpretations, which scares people,” Mussa told reporters. “We are in the 21st century.”
Tuesday’s march to the presidential palace was the latest in a string of protests which the opposition said could escalate.