Egyptian protesters converged on the presidential palace in Cairo to deliver what they said was a “final warning” to President Mohamed Mursi, who left the building as the number of demonstrators grew.
Tens of thousands of activists marched on the compound in the neighborhood of Heliopolis to protest a charter they say fails to protect freedoms and minority rights, accusing Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood of betraying the aims of last year’s uprising against Hosni Mubarak. It’s part of a wave of demonstrations since Mursi last month expanded his powers and called a referendum on a constitution drafted by an Islamist-dominated panel.
Groups of demonstrators began converging on the palace after sunset, some calling on others to join them, yelling: “Come out of your houses” and “Down with the Brotherhood.” Security forces carrying shields and batons stood behind roadblocks of coiled barbed wire and fired tear gas after demonstrators attacked the barriers.
The Islamist president’s edict “must be toppled along with the panel that wrote the constitution,” said Mahmoud Abdel Aziz, 50, who had joined the march. “We are forced to choose between two terrible options: accept a bad constitution or get stuck with decrees that turn the president into a god.”
Mursi left the palace “on time” after finishing several meetings, the Egyptian state-run news agency reported, citing an Interior Ministry statement. He left on the advise of security officials, the Associated Press reported.
Mursi called a popular vote on the draft constitution, completed last week by a committee that also enjoys immunity from legal challenge under his decree. The president and his backers in the Muslim Brotherhood say the measures are necessary to preserve the gains from Egypt’s revolution in the face of courts staffed by Mubarak loyalists.
“We’re participating in today’s march to voice our total rejection of the constitution, the whole dictatorial drafting process and Mursi’s seizure of near-absolute powers,” Amr Abotawila, a member of the Popular Socialist Coalition Party, said by phone today.
The judiciary is divided over the constitutional referendum. The Supreme Judicial Council said yesterday it would help supervise the vote, after another prominent group of judges declined the task.
The council’s announcement helped prompt a rally in Egyptian stocks, pushing the benchmark up 3.5 percent today, its biggest gain in five months. The index is still down more than 8 percent since Mursi’s decree was issued.
Mohamed Saad el-Katatni, who heads the Freedom and Justice Party, said he hoped the decision by the judicial council would mark “the resolution of the crisis.” Ahmed El Zind, the head of the prominent Judges Club that has declined to supervise the vote, said the council’s decision is not binding and will not “split our ranks.”
“It’s up to the judges whether or not to accept” the task, El Zind said in televised comments late yesterday. “We are pushing ahead with plans not to supervise the referendum unless the demands of the judges, which I think are the demands of all Egyptians, are met.”
Former presidential candidate Amre Moussa and Nobel laureate Mohamed Elbaradei are among leading figures supporting the rallies against Mursi. Moussa called today for the protests to remain non-violent, while Elbaradei called the constitution a “foundation for tyranny” and the proposed referendum “false democracy” on his Twitter account yesterday.
At least 11 newspapers decided not to publish today to protest what they say are limitations on freedoms in the draft constitution, according to Al Masry Al Youm, one of the papers.
“You are reading this message because Egypt Independent objects to continued restrictions on media liberties, especially after hundreds of Egyptians gave their lives for freedom and dignity,” read a message on an otherwise black screen on the website of the English-language Egypt Independent.