Anger over President Morsi’s declaration of autocratic powers and a new constitution, which seems to roll back rights for some segments of the populace, led to massive and sometimes violent protests outside the Presidential Palace.
Early on the number of protesters was relatively small, perhaps 300, all of them kept well away from the palace gates by police and barbed wire. They were there to protest the new constitution which some see as a move to an Islamic state where the rights of women, secularists and religious minorities will be diminished.
A group of Muslim Brotherhood members, who protesters claim were called for by the President himself, came through and routed the protesters, tearing down the tents they had erected outside. You can see some of this taking place in the video below:
It may have seemed like a rout for Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters, but by evening, a much larger mass of protesters, numbering as many as 100,000, returned to the palace and attacked the barricades. Police fired tear gas but were eventually forced to back off and hide inside the palace under the onslaught. President Morsi reportedly fled the scene through the rear entrance of the palace.
The scenes of street clashes between the President’s supporters and protesters is reminiscent of similar scenes nearly two years ago when protesters demanded the ouster of President Mubarak.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was at NATO headquarters in Belgium today where she made a brief statement and then took questions. Asked why the administration had not made any public statements about the new constitution, Secretary Clinton did offer some tepid criticism:
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you. Madam Secretary, you and National Security Advisor Donilon have spoken with your Egyptian counterparts about Egypt’s constitution process, but you’ve expressed no public concern, despite what some people in your Administration warn is the draft’s attempts to roll back the rights of women, religious minorities, freedom of speech, and the press. Madam Secretary, what shortcomings do you see in the draft constitution, and what would be the repercussions of the constitution entering into force on the democratic transition? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Bradley, first let me say we have been watching very closely this process as it is unfolding in Cairo with concern. We’ve expressed that repeatedly over the last weeks. Because almost two years the Egyptian people took to the streets because they wanted real democratic change. And they, therefore – not the Americans, not anyone else but the Egyptian people – deserve a constitution that protects the rights of all Egyptians, men and women, Muslim and Christian, and ensures that Egypt will uphold all of its international obligations. They also want and deserve a constitutional process that is open, transparent, and fair and does not unduly favor one group over any other.
Mohamed ElBaradei, who campaigned for the Presidency himself and is a leading voice in the opposition, was less circumspect about President Morsi’s role in the violence, saying, “This, in my view, is the end of any legitimacy this regime has.”