CAIRO — More than 200,000 people packed Cairo's central Tahrir square on Tuesday, chanting against Egypt's Islamist president in a powerful show of strength by the opposition demanding Mohammed Morsi revoke edicts granting himself near autocratic powers.
With the mass protests in Tahrir and in several other cities — comparable in size to those during last year's uprising that overthrew autocrat Hosni Mubarak — opposition to the decrees issued last week turned into a broader outpouring of anger against the rule of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood.
Waving Egypt's red, white and black flags, crowds of protesters marched across Cairo to stream into the iconic central plaza, birthplace of the anti-Mubarak uprising. By the evening, it was thronging with a crowd that appeared to be more than 200,000. Clashes broke out in several cities as Morsi opponents tried to attack offices of the Brotherhood, setting fire to at least one.
Ringing out at Tahrir was the central chant of the Arab Spring revolts: The people want to bring down the regime, and erhal, erhal — Arabic for leave, leave.
Suddenly Morsi is issuing laws and becoming the absolute ruler, holding all powers in his hands, said protester Mona Sadek, a 31-year-old engineering graduate who wears the Islamic veil, a hallmark of piety. Our revolt against the decrees became a protest against the Brotherhood as well.
But Gehad el-Haddad, a senior adviser to the Brotherhood and its political party, said the opposition was very divided and that Morsi would not back down. We are not rescinding the declaration, he told The Associated Press. Morsi's edicts effectively neutralize the judiciary, which was the only branch of government in a position to balance Morsi, who holds not only executive but also legislative authority.
The staunch stand taken by Morsi and his Brotherhood sets the stage for a drawn-out battle with the opposition that could paralyze the nation at a time when its economic woes are deepening, security continues to be tenuous and strikes by an entire spectrum of white- and blue-collar workers show no sign of abating.
Protest organizers on a stage in the square called for another mass rally on Friday. If the Brotherhood responds with mass rallies of its own, as some of its leaders have hinted, it would raise the prospect of greater violence after a series of clashes between the two camps in recent days.
Even as the crowds swelled in Tahrir, clashes erupted nearby between several hundred young protesters throwing stones and police firing tear gas on a street off Tahrir leading to the U.S. Embassy. Clouds of tear gas hung close to the ground at the area. Clashes have been taking place at the site for several days.