Protestors sweep their way to the gate of the presidential palace in Cairo

Published: Updated:
Read Mode
100% Font Size
7 min read

The army on Thursday ordered the square in front of the presidential palace cleared. Troops deployed tanks and set up barbed-wire barricades blocking access.

Both Mursi's Islamist backers and the largely secular opposition have dug in their positions in the confrontation, raising the prospect of further escalation of the crisis rocking the Arab world's most populous state.

In a speech on Thursday, Mursi sought to portray elements of the opposition as "thugs" allied to remnants of the regime of veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak, toppled in a February 2011 uprising.

He defended a decree issued two weeks ago giving him sweeping powers immune from judicial challenge, and vowed to push on with a December 15 referendum on a new constitution drafted by a panel dominated by his Islamist allies.

A grudging offer to sit down with the opposition for talks on Saturday was rebuffed by the National Salvation Front coalition ranged against him.

The Front accused the president of “dividing Egyptians between his ‘supporters of legitimacy’... and his opponents, whom he calls ‘thugs’.”

The opposition sees the decree as a brazen power grab, and the draft constitution as an attempt to quash Egypt's secular underpinnings in favor of Islamic aspirations.

Demonstrators taking to Cairo's streets said they were determined to stop Mursi.

“We will use any means to bring down the regime,” said a young man in his 20s, Ahmad Dewedar, camping out in the capital's Tahrir Square, one of the focal points of protest.

But determination flashed equally brightly among those backing Mursi, especially at a Cairo funeral procession mourning several of the seven killed this week, who were said to be Muslim Brotherhood members.

“We will avenge them through the courts,” said one Muslim Brotherhood supporter attending the service in the Al-Azhar mosque.

He dismissed the protesters, saying: “The rest of the people, all the people are with us, with the (draft) constitution,” he said.

The demonstrations seen this week were the biggest since Mursi took office in June. The street clashes were also reminiscent of the upheaval that accompanied Mubarak's overthrow early last year.

At least four of Mursi's advisers have quit over the crisis, and the Cairo stock market has taken a heavy hit.

Egypt's top Islamic body on Thursday also called on Mursi to suspend the decree.

The United States and European Union have called for dialogue to resolve the crisis.

U.S. President Barack Obama expressed “deep concern” in a call to Mursi on Thursday, the White House said.
U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay on Friday criticized the draft constitution and “the way the process has been short-circuited,” saying “people are right to be very concerned.”

She highlighted the proposed charter's perceived weaknesses in upholding human rights and gender equality, the primacy of Islamic sharia law in the text, and its potential to give the president “excessive power” over the judiciary.

Top Content Trending