Thousands continue Egypt protests
Tens of thousands of Egyptians protested against President Mohamed Morsi today after an Islamist-led assembly raced through approval of a new constitution in a bid to end a crisis over the Islamist leader's newly expanded powers.
"The people want to bring down the regime," they chanted in Tahrir Square, echoing the chants that rang out in the same place less than two years ago and brought down Hosni Mubarak.
Mr Morsi said a decree halting court challenges to his decisions, which sparked eight days of protests and violence by Egyptians calling him a new dictator, was "for an exceptional stage" and aimed to speed up the democratic transition.
"It will end as soon as the people vote on a constitution," he told state television while the constituent assembly was still voting on a draft, which the Islamists say reflects Egypt's new freedoms. "There is no place for dictatorship."
But the opposition cried foul. Liberals, leftists, Christians, more moderate Muslims and others had withdrawn from the assembly, saying their voices were not being heard.
Even in the mosque where Mr Morsi said Friday prayers some opponents chanted "Morsi: void" before sympathisers surrounded him shouting in support, journalists and a security source said.
Tens of thousands gathered across the country, filling Tahrir Square and hitting the streets in Alexandria and cities on the Suez Canal, in the Nile Delta and south of Cairo, responding to opposition calls for a big turnout.
An opposition leaflet distributed in Tahrir urged protesters to stay overnight before tomorrow's rallies by Islamists; the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies said they would avoid the square during their demonstrations backing Mursi.
The disparate opposition, which has struggled to compete with well-organised Islamists, has been drawn together and reinvigorated by the crisis. Tens of thousands had also protested on Tuesday, showing the breadth of public anger.
But Islamists have a potent political machine and the United States has looked on warily at the rising power of a group it once kept at arms length now ruling a nation that has a peace treaty with Israel and is at the heart of the Arab Spring.
Protesters said they would push for a 'no' vote in a constitutional referendum, which could happen as early as mid-December. If the new basic law were approved, it would immediately cancel the president's decree.
"We fundamentally reject the referendum and constituent assembly because the assembly does not represent all sections of society," said Sayed el-Erian (43), a protester in Tahrir and member of a party set up by opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei.
Mr ElBaradei said in a statement the constitution had "lost legitimacy" and called for ending the polarisation of Egypt.
The plebiscite on the constitution is a gamble based on the Islamists' belief they can mobilise voters again after winning every election held since Mubarak was toppled in February 2011.
Despite the big numbers opposed to him, Mursi can count on backing from the disciplined Brotherhood and Islamist allies, as well as many Egyptians who are simply exhausted by the turmoil.
"He just wants us to move on and not waste time in conflicts," said 33-year-old Cairo shopkeeper Abdel Nasser Marie. "Give the man a chance and Egypt a break."