Pressure on Morsy to withdraw decree
Supporters and opponents of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy clash in Alexandria on Friday. Photo: AP
This November 23, 2012 photo shows protesters at Tahrir Square in Cairo. Photo: Atul Aneja | The Hindu

Pungent wafts of teargas drifted over Tahrir Square on Saturday morning after clashes between protesters and police — mirroring Egypt’s class and ideological divide — resumed after an overnight lull.

Agitated youths threw stones at police deployed in strength at Mohamed Mahmoud street that adjoins Tahrir Square, the enduring symbol of Egypt’s unfinished revolution. State security forces responded with a heavy barrage of teargas, leading to familiar scenes of victims being ferried on motorcycles to nearby hospitals. Medical staff at the Mounira Public Hospital said 32 people had been brought to the facility following the clashes that began on Friday.

The protests extended the agitation energised by Thursday’s controversial decree of President Mohamed Morsy granting him sweeping powers. Violence had surged on Friday across Egypt. Offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, to which Mr. Morsy belongs, were torched in Alexandria — Egypt’s second largest city — and Suez.

The anger of the arsonists reflected the multiple schisms facing Egypt — the ideological divide between the Islamists and secularists as well as the glaring rift between the privileged and the poor. The country’s deep class divisions showed up again when angry fans of the Al Ahly football club, comprising legions of unemployed youth, stood at the frontlines waging pitched battles with the police. Their stunning courage — some would say foolhardiness — as they presented themselves as ready targets to the police was in itself a statement of Mr. Morsy’s failure to ignite sufficient hope in the underclass to get off the streets.

The continuation of protests, which some analysts interpret as the opening of another chapter in Egypt’s unfinished revolution, seems to have demonstrated that Mr. Morsy’s international acclaim in brokering a Gaza ceasefire deal has been insufficient in deepening his domestic legitimacy. A combination of the liberal secular elite and the poor have mounted a fierce riposte to what has been described by some critics, such as Mohamed ElBaradei, as a power grab by the embattled President. Mr. Morsy has argued he is preserving Egypt’s stability and advancing the revolution by temporarily injecting real power in the executive through his decree but his critics have successfully imaged him as doing exactly the opposite. The crowds at Tahrir and elsewhere since Friday are crying hoarse that Mr. Morsy is a counterrevolutionary, not very different from Hosni Mubarak, the former strongman. Mr. ElBaradei described the President as Egypt’s “new pharaoh”.

Fifteen liberal and leftist political parties have assigned Tuesday as another day of protests against the President’s decree, which shields him from judicial oversight and preserves a constituent assembly dominated by Islamists. “We are facing a historic moment in which we either complete our revolution or we abandon it to become prey for a group that has put its narrow party interests above the national interest,” said the statement, issued by the liberal Constitution Party , led by Mr. ElBaradei.

The Supreme Judicial Council, a body of top judges, disparaged the President’s move as “an unprecedented attack on the independence of the judiciary and its rulings”.

As gray clouds hung low over the capital and the mercury dipped after intermittent showers, Mr. Morsy and his core advisors were to meet on Saturday. There were signs that the controversial decree was turning internally divisive. Ayman al-Sayyad, an adviser to Mr. Morsy, acknowledged in remarks to BBC Arabic that that country was witnessing a deep split. The newspaper Daily News Egypt is reporting that Samir Morcos, the presidential assistant, has made a “final decision” to resign following Mr. Morsy’s new constitutional declaration.

By Saturday evening, it was evident that Mr. Morsy had a critical choice to make. Under the weight of hardliners within the Muslim Brotherhood, his parent organisation, he could nudge his supporters to engage in ruinous street battles with its opponents. Alternatively, the President, aware that his country was deeply and equally divided within, could shun confrontation and seek accommodation with his detractors by withdrawing the most pernicious elements from his flawed decree.

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