Anti-Morsi protests in Cairo 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
CAIRO - Opponents of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi clashed with Cairo police on Tuesday as thousands of protesters around the nation stepped up pressure on the Islamist leader to scrap a decree they say threatens Egypt with a new era of autocracy.
Police fired tear gas at stone-throwing youths in streets off the capital's Tahrir Square, heart of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year. Protesters also turned out in Alexandria, Suez, Minya and cities in the Nile Delta.
A 52-year-old protester died after inhaling teargas in Cairo, the second death
since last week's decree that expanded Morsi's powers and barred court challenges to his decisions.
Tuesday's protest called by leftists, liberals and other groups deepened the worst crisis since the Muslim Brotherhood politician was elected in June, and exposed a divide between the newly empowered Islamists and their opponents.
Morsi's administration has defended his decree as an effort to speed up reforms and complete a democratic transformation. Opponents say it shows he has dictatorial instincts.
"The people want to bring down the regime," protesters in Tahrir chanted, echoing slogans used in the anti-Mubarak revolt.
Morsi's move provoked a rebellion by judges and battered confidence in an economy struggling after two years of turmoil.
Opponents have accused Morsi of behaving like a modern-day pharaoh, a jibe long leveled at Mubarak. The United States, a benefactor to Egypt's military, has expressed concern about more turbulence in a country that has a peace treaty with Israel.
"We don't want a dictatorship again. The Mubarak regime was a dictatorship. We had a revolution to have justice and freedom," 32-year-old Ahmed Husseini said in Cairo.
Some protesters have been camped out since Friday in Tahrir, and violence has flared around the country, including in a town north of Cairo where a Muslim Brotherhood youth was killed in clashes on Sunday. Hundreds have been injured.
Supporters and opponents of Morsi threw stones at each other and some hurled petrol bombs in the Delta city of el-Mahalla el-Kubra. A doctor said nine people were brought to hospital, but he expected numbers to rise to dozens.Non-Islamist forces coming together against Morsi
The protest was a show of strength by the non-Islamist opposition, whose fractious ranks have been brought together by the crisis. Well-organized Islamists have consistently beaten more secular-minded parties at the ballot box in elections held since Mubarak was ousted in February, 2011.
"The main demand is to withdraw the constitutional declaration (decree). This is the point," said Amr Moussa, former Arab League chief and presidential candidate who has joined the opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front.
Some scholars from the prestigious al-Azhar mosque and university joined Tuesday's protest, showing that Morsi and his Brotherhood have alienated some more moderate Muslims. Members of Egypt's large Christian minority also joined in.
Morsi formally quit the Brotherhood on taking office, saying he would be a president for all Egyptians, but he is still a member of its Freedom and Justice Party.
The decree issued on Thursday expanded his powers and protected his decisions from judicial review until the election of a new parliament expected in the first half of 2013.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said it gives Morsi more power than the interim military junta from which he took over.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told an Austrian paper he would encourage Morsi to resolve the issue by dialogue.
Trying to ease tensions with judges outraged at the step, Morsi has assured Egypt's highest judicial authority that elements of the decree giving his decisions immunity would apply only to matters of "sovereign" importance. Although that should limit it to issues such as a declaration of war, experts said there was room for much broader interpretation.
In another step to avoid more confrontation, the Muslim Brotherhood cancelled plans for a rival mass rally in Cairo on Tuesday to support the decree. Violence has flared in the past when both sides have taken to the streets.
But there has been no retreat on other elements of the decree, including a stipulation that the Islamist-dominated body writing a new constitution be protected from legal challenge.