CAIRO – Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets nationwide on Tuesday, November 27, in protest against a decree by President Mohamed Morsi granting himself sweeping powers.
"We don't want a dictatorship again. The Mubarak regime was a dictatorship,” 32-year-old Ahmed Husseini told Reuters.
“We had a revolution to have justice and freedom.”
Tens of thousands gathered in Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square in a show of strength by opponents of President Morsi.
Thousands of protestors also staged marches in different districts in Cairo in protest against Morsi’s decree, which shields his decisions from judicial review.
Morsi defended his decree as an effort to speed up reforms that will complete Egypt's democratic transformation.
But opponents have accused the Islamist president of behaving like a modern-day pharaoh.
"The people want to bring down the regime," protesters chanted, echoing slogans used in the anti-Mubarak uprising.
Clashes erupted between some protestors and police in streets off Cairo's Tahrir Square, center that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year.
A 52-year-old protester died after inhaling the gas, the second fatality since Morsi announced the decree last week.
Tuesday's mass protest called by leftists, liberals and other groups marked a deepening of the worst crisis since Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected in June, and exposed a divide between the newly-empowered Islamists and their opponents.
Some protesters have been camped out since Friday in the Tahrir Square, 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 more have been injured.
Some scholars from the prestigious al-Azhar mosque and university joined Tuesday's protest, according to Reuters.
In a bid to avoid confrontation, the Muslim Brotherhood cancelled plans for a rival mass protest in Cairo on Tuesday to support the decree.
Morsi tried to ease tension after his decree, assuring Egypt’s highest judicial authority on Monday 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 a much broader interpretation.
However, Morsi made no retreat on other elements of the decree, including a stipulation that the body writing a new constitution be protected from legal challenge.
But protestors insisted on their demand of scraping the decree.
"We came here to reject dictatorship and tyranny," said 50-year-old Noha Abol Fotouh.
"The decree must be cancelled and the constituent assembly should be reformed, all intellectuals have left it and now it is controlled by Islamists."
With its popular legitimacy undermined by the withdrawal of most of its non-Islamist members, the assembly faces a series of court cases from plaintiffs who claim it was formed illegally.
Morsi’s decree was seen as targeting in part a legal establishment still largely unreformed from Mubarak's era, when the Brotherhood was outlawed.
Rulings from an array of courts this year have dealt a series of blows to the Brotherhood, leading to the dissolution of the first constitutional assembly and the lower house of parliament elected a year ago. The Brotherhood dominated both.
The judiciary blocked an attempt by Morsi to reconvene the Brotherhood-led parliament after his election victory.
It also stood in the way of his attempt to sack the prosecutor general, a Mubarak hold over, in October.
Though both Islamists and their opponents broadly agree that the judiciary needs reform, Morsi’s rivals oppose his methods.Morsi has repeatedly stated the decree will stay only until a new parliament is elected - something that can happen once the constitution is written and passed in a popular referendum.