It looks as though those pro-Morsi counterprotests by the recently-ascendant Muslim Brotherhood didn’t work out as planned. Instead of convincing Egyptians to give Morsi a chance to use his pharaoh-esque powers to deliver democracy as promised, opponents are once again filling the streets of Cairo — and today plan to march on Morsi’s palace to deliver their own message:
Thousands of Egyptians massed in Cairo Tuesday for a march to the presidential palace to protest the assumption by the nation’s Islamist president of nearly unrestricted powers and a draft constitution hurriedly adopted by his allies.
The march comes amid rising anger over the draft charter and decrees issued by Mohammed Morsi giving himself sweeping powers. Morsi called for a nationwide referendum on the draft constitution on Dec. 15.
Morsi’s security forces have prepared for trouble, while the protesters are casting the stakes in stark terms:
Hundreds of black-clad riot police deployed around the Itihadiya palace in Cairo’s district of Heliopolis. Barbed wire was also placed outside the complex, and side roads leading to it were blocked to traffic. Protesters gathered at Cairo’s Tahrir square and several other points not far from the palace to march to the presidential complex.
“Freedom or we die,” chanted a crowd of several hundred outside a mosque in the Abbasiyah district. “Mohammed Morsi! Illegitimate! Brotherhood! Illegitimate!” they also yelled, alluding to the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood from which Morsi hails.
“This is the last warning before we lay siege on the presidential palace,” said Mahmoud Hashim, a 21-year-old student from the city of Suez on the Red Sea. “We want the presidential decrees cancelled.”
At the same time, a strike has spread from the judiciary to the media. Eleven newspapers have shut down today in protest of Morsi’s decrees. Tomorrow, Egypt’s private TV networks will follow suit, going dark for the entire day. The media — at least the non-state media — objects to the terms of the new constitution and its limitation on freedom of expression authored by the Muslim Brotherhood:
“You are reading this message because Egypt Independent objects to continued restrictions on media liberties, especially after hundreds of Egyptians gave their lives for freedom and dignity,” declared a short statement set against a black background on the Web site of Egypt Independent, the English language sister publication of the largest independent daily, Al Masry Al Youm.
The one day blackout is the sharpest strike yet in a new push by liberal and secular groups to defeat the draft charter, which was approved last Friday by an Islamist-dominated assembly despite the boycotts and objections of almost all non-Islamist delegates. …
Among other criticisms, analysts and human rights groups say the draft contains loopholes that could eviscerate its provisions for freedom of expression. Although it ostensibly declares a right to free speech, the constitution also expressly prohibits “insults” to “religious prophets.”
The charter declares that part of the purpose of the news media is to uphold public morality and the “true nature of the Egyptian family,” and it requires authorization to operate a television or a Web site.
“The protection of freedom of expression is fatally undermined by all the provisions that limit it,” said Heba Morayef, a researcher with Human Rights Watch who has studied the text. “On paper, they have not protected freedom of expression. It is designed to let the government limit those rights on the basis of ‘morality’ or the vague concept of ‘insult.’”
Just remember, the Obama administration hailed Morsi as the democratic result of the supposedly reformist Arab Spring. The White House has been remarkably silent about that outcome ever since Morsi decreed himself a pharaoh. It took Obama only eight days to demand longtime US ally Hosni Mubarak’s ouster after peaceful protests erupted against his regime in the spring of 2011. How long will it be before Obama speaks out against Morsi’s power grab?