Egyptian police battled thousands of protesters outside President Mohamed Mursi’s palace in Cairo on Tuesday, prompting the Islamist leader to leave the building, presidency sources said.
Officers fired teargas at up to 10,000 demonstrators angered by Mursi’s drive to hold a referendum on a new constitution on December 15. Some broke through police lines around his palace and protested next to the perimeter wall.
The crowds had gathered nearby in what organizers had dubbed “last warning” protests against Mursi, who infuriated opponents with a November 22 decree that expanded his powers. “The people want the downfall of the regime,” the demonstrators chanted.
“The president left the palace,” a presidential source, who declined to be named, told Reuters. A security source at the presidency also said the president had departed.
Mursi ignited a storm of unrest in his bid to prevent a judiciary still packed with appointees of ousted predecessor Hosni Mubarak from derailing a troubled political transition.
Facing the gravest crisis of his six-month-old tenure, the Islamist president has shown no sign of buckling under pressure.
Egyptian protesters and police clashed in Cairo on Tuesday just hours ahead of a planned massive rally by opponents of the country’s Islamist president demanding he rescind decrees that granted him near-absolute powers.
Police fired tear gas and hundreds of protesters pelted them with rocks at a street between the U.S. Embassy and Tahrir Square, birthplace of the uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime nearly two years ago.
The protesters have been staging a sit-in at the square since Friday night to demand President Mohammed Morsi revoke his decrees.
By mid-day, hundreds were starting to gather in Tahrir, chanting against Morsi’s decrees and the Brotherhood. A new banner in the square proclaimed, “The Brotherhood stole the country.”
“We are here to bring down the constitutional declaration issued by Morsi,” said one protester at Tahrir, Mahmoud Youssef.
Democracy is beautiful; democratic politics is ugly.
Anyone who has sat through an American presidential campaign will nod in knowing agreement at that statement. Egyptians are now learning its truth—and teaching it quite forcefully to the world at the same time.
Elections in Egypt produced an Islamist parliament and, after that was dissolved by the courts, an Islamist president. International actors, the United States foremost among them, then rose to the occasion. Rather than rejection and horror, the Obama administraiton instead tried coping and coaxing. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood reciprocated, working to square the circle on its commitment to the Palestinian cause, to prioritize its commitment to economic reform, and to speak to visiting diplomats and potential investors in the language they liked to hear.
That process went more smoothly than might have been expected, but it has now hit a major speed bump: Egypt’s shaky democracy-in-the-making has not simply produced political leaders who are difficult partners, but also a kind of domestic politics that is characterized by a degree of hyperbole and a range of reckless charges that would make the most shameless robocaller blush.
It’s important to note that Egypt’s domestic political process is actually surviving the rhetorical race to the gutter. A new constitution is being written; civilian control of the military is slowly evolving; and the new president has used his temporary dictatorial powers both sparingly and wisely.
But the country’s foreign relations may have suffered a blow with the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. The attack itself that will cause problems for Egypt’s diplomacy; foreign audiences that learned to cheer for Egyptian crowds last year will now learn again to fear them. An even greater problem will be caused, however, by the slow and quirky official Egyptian reaction to the violence done by the demonstrators.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday urged Egypt’s Islamist president and its military to settle their differences for the good of Egypt’s people, or risk seeing their nation’s democratic transition derailed.
Egypt’s newly elected President Mohammed Morsi is locked in conflict with the powerful military over whether the country’s legislature should reconvene after a court ruling last month dissolved it. It’s the latest crisis in nearly 17 months of political drama since last year’s overthrow of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.
Speaking in Vietnam, Clinton refused to take sides in the simmering dispute. She cited Egypt’s progress, as evidenced by competitive elections and the first popularly elected president in the country’s “very long history.” But she stressed that much more needed to be done.