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Middle East

Liberals protest against Egypt's 'pharaoh'

Disappointed with the pace of post-revolutionary reforms, tens of thousands of people gathered in Tahrir Square to express their discontent with President Morsi. Many of the protesters once supported the president.

epa03483598 Egyptian protesters shout against President Mohamed Morsi, during a rally over Morsi decrees,in tahrir square, Cairo, Egypt, 23 November 2012. Opposition planned a mass rally to protest constitutional changes ordered by the Islamist President Morsi. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi said on 23 November that a decree granting him sweeping powers was not designed to 'settle scores' with the opposition, but to ensure national stability. EPA/KHALED ELFIQI

Demonstration Kairo Ägypten November 2012

Cairo's Tahrir Square was once again the center of protests by Egyptian demonstrators unhappy with their government's actions. The square in central Cairo was host to thousands of protesters upset with newly elected President Mohammed Morsi and a decree he made Thursday to give himself sweeping powers over all branches of government.

Nearly all the demonstrators were liberals like 20-something Schahier, and they had a common view of Morsi's decree.

"If we accept this, then this is going to be the end," Schahier said. "He has all the powers - he has the legislative powers, he has the judiciary powers and he has the executive powers. He has everything now. He is like an emperor."

Politician Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on Twitter that Morsi "usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh."

epa03483533 Egyptian protesters hold a banner depicting Egyptian President Morsi as a Pharaoh, during a rally over Morsi decrees, in Garden City, Cairo, Egypt, 23 November 2012. Opposition planned a mass rally to protest constitutional changes ordered by the Islamist President Morsi. Morsi on 22 November signed constitutional amendments making his decisions immune to judicial review. EPA/ANDRE PAIN

Even those who believed in Morsi said they were disappointed by his actions

Most of the people who took to Tahrir Square over the last two days agreed. The demonstration on Friday had been planned long ago, and the presidential decree earlier this week was simply another item on the protesters' already long list of complaints. Those include the fact that the committee tasked with writing a new constitution is made almost exclusively of Islamists.

The decree, however, did convince more people to take to the street than the protest would have otherwise managed to gather. Tens of thousands of people assembled at Tahrir Square on Friday evening. Early Saturday morning, Egyptian police used tear gas to disperse the crowds.

Tarek Nassar said Morsi and other members of the Muslim Brotherhood were a group of liars and fascists.

"He promised many, many things," the man in his mid-60s said. "Tell me one single promise he kept! I have absolutely no trust in them."

Chants of "Down, down with the Muslim Brotherhood" and posters with similarly critical messages could be heard and seen all over Tahrir Square. There was even suspicion over demands Morsi had actually met. For example, the Egyptian president previously agreed to demands to remove the Mubarak-era state prosecutor from office.

But Schahier said he still did not have any faith in Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood.

Protesters gather at Tahrir Square in Cairo November 23, 2012. Photo: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Protesters aren't sure what will become of their demonstrations

"I do not believe his intention was to remove the prosecutor for the sake of the revolution," he said. "I think he wanted to remove him for the sake of the Muslim Brotherhood."

Schahier said he is even concerned by the part of the decree that allows for the retrial of former regime member acquitted of murdering demonstrators.

"Maybe the retrials are a good point, but I have my doubts because of all the other points in the decree," he said.

Many of the demonstrators are part of the Egyptian middle class. They speak English, are well-dressed and attended university. Younger protesters include members of the many new liberal political parties and movements. The organizations are united in their opposition to Morsi's degree and their symbols are omnipresent at the demonstrations.

Flames burn around a police vehicle after protesters threw a molotov cocktail at it during clashes at Tahrir Square in Cairo November 23, 2012. Photo: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Police broke up the demonstration in Tahrir Square

"We are demanding that the assembly writing the constitution be dissolved because it does not represent all Egyptians," said Abdul Bar Zahran, a functionary of the Free Egyptians Party, holding a party flag during the protest. "It does not represent women, minorities, Christians, liberals or even the other revolutionaries."

It remains unclear what effect, if any, the protests will have. Schahier said he was taking a realistic view of the situation.

"I just don't know, but we're hoping for the best," he said. "The problem is that the Muslim Brotherhood can get the same numbers or even bigger numbers any time they want."

That's just what the Brotherhood did. Thousands of members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists assembled in front of the Presidential Palace to show their support of Morsi. Late Friday the evening, it remained to be seen whether the sit-in started by liberal protesters in Tahrir Square would continue or be broken up by authorities.

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