CAIRO — Tens of thousands of protesters crammed Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday for the eighth day of anti-Morsi demonstrations that were sparked by a Thursday, Nov. 22, constitutional declaration that gave President Mohammed Morsi vastly widened and unchecked executive powers.
Some of Egypt’s most prominent politicians started an open-ended strike at Tahrir Square until Morsi withdraws his constitutional declaration and dissolves the disputed constituent assembly which passed a draft constitution after almost twelve hours of internal voting held on Thursday, Nov. 29.
Leaders of the strike included the 2012 presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabahi, Amr Moussa and Khaled Ali, Nobel Prize winner and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed El-Baradei and dozens of celebrated liberal, leftist and labor figures.
Coinciding with the constituent assembly’s internal vote, Morsi, the first president to be elected in Egypt’s history, appeared in a pre-recorded television interview and bluntly challenged dozens of political powers and hundreds of thousands of Egyptians whose votes brought him to a presidential palace that was monopolized by the country’s military since a 1952 coup that declared the republican system.
His prolonged, repeated remarks in defense of his decision and the constituent assembly that was boycotted by more than a dozen of its members including Egypt’s Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican Churches triggered a wave of condemnation while videos and photos of Tahrir Square protesters waving their shoes while watching the talk spread over the internet.
“Morsi talked too much but said very little, he failed to specify actions that will bring Egypt out of its crisis,” said Hamdeen Sabahi, the Nasserite 2012 presidential candidate and founder of the Popular Current, a coalition of leftist parties.
“He generously expressed verbal respect to the judiciary but practically he insists on violating it,” Sabahi reported to local press.
Dozens of politicians, labor figures and revolutionary youth condemned Morsi’s recent policies from a stage erected in Tahrir Squre. Their short but fiery condemnation echoed through speakers scattered across the square.
“I beg you not to let anyone fool you again, Morsi didn’t say a word that made sense,” said Khaled Telima, a prominent activist and leading member of the Popular Current.
“We will show Morsi even bigger million-man protests, we will tell him that we are against you, your movement and your supreme guide,” said Telima referring to the Muslim Brotherhood movement and its spiritual leader, Mohamed Badei, under which Morsi operated until his inauguration on June 30, 2012.
Those taking a break from chanting and waving flags of Egypt and banners emblazoned with photos of revolution victims and anti-Morsi slogans discussed measures of escalation amid a political crisis that does not seem to be ending any time soon.
“Morsi is working for the Muslim Brotherhood’s interests, not for Egypt,” said Samir Abdelkader, a 60-year-old retired engineer. “He will call for a referendum and ignore the opposition.”
“They are manipulating millions of illiterate, impoverished Egyptians and convincing them that they are defending Egypt’s Islamic identity, this is their powerful and mean weapon,” Abdelkader told Al-Monitor in Tahrir Square.
“I don’t think it’s possible that Morsi will withdraw the declaration or that we will be able to bring down the constitution in a referendum against all of the Islamist currents.”
But Mahmoud Ahmed, a 42-year-old colleague of Abdelkader who joined him every day at Tahrir Square since the constitutional declaration last week, believed that labor strikes and civil disobedience will force Morsi, his government, and the Muslim Brotherhood to change their policies.
“Voting on the constitution is a best case scenario for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood: Either it passes or not,” said Ahmed. “If it passes, then it’s a constitution that represents them; if it fails, then Morsi’s dictatorial powers will rule until further notice.”
“Our chance is to continue holding our strikes, call for civil disobedience if necessary, and force the Muslim Brotherhood to understand that we will overthrow them like we brought them to power.”
Khaled Ali, the prominent labor rights advocate and lawyer who ran for the presidency in 2012, called for civil disobedience from the main stage erected at Tahrir Square on Friday.
“I call all of Egypt’s workers to follow the judges and strike,” said Ali. “The Muslim Brotherhood’s arrogance is a part of the crisis Egypt is living.”
Meanwhile, Amr Hamzawy, head of the Freedom Egypt Party and member of the National Salvation Front established in reaction to Morsi’s decisions last week, expressed deep concerns for the coming period “especially that the illegitimate constituent assembly continues its operations.”
“The National Salvation Front will resort to boycotting the constitution referendum,” said Hamzawy after an emergency meeting held on Thursday night while the constituent assembly passed the draft constitution.
The draft constitution, which the assembly passed every single one of its 234 articles, seemed to have disappointed not only Egypt’s opposition but also an international organization.
A statement published by Amnesty International on Friday said, “Egypt's new constitution limits fundamental freedoms and ignores women's rights.”
“A draft constitution approved by Egypt’s Constituent Assembly falls well short of protecting human rights and, in particular, ignores the rights of women, restricts freedom of expression in the name of protecting religion, and allows for the military trial of civilians, Amnesty International said today,” read the opening paragraph of the official statement published on Amnesty International’s website.
“In the document,freedom of religion is limited to Islam, Christianity and Judaism — potentially excluding the right to worship to other religious minorities such as Baha’is and Shi’a Muslims,” added the statement.
Mohannad Sabry is an Egyptian journalist based in Cairo. He has written for McClatchy Newspapers and The Washington Times, served as managing editor of Global Post's reporting fellowship "Covering the Revolution" in Cairo as well as a contributor to its special reports "Tahrir Square" and "Egypt: the military, the people." Born in Saudi Arabia and raised around the world, Sabry returned to Cairo in 2001 and has been covering Egypt since 2005. Follow him on twitter @mmsabry.
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