• The Washington Post


Egyptian opposition forces rallied across the country Tuesday and into early Wednesday in the biggest show of dissent against the country’s first democratically elected leader since he precipitated a political crisis last week with an apparent bid to assume near-absolute power.

A loose coalition of rights groups, liberals and secularists poured into Cairo’s Tahrir Square and other public spaces, urging President Mohammed Morsi to rescind a decree he issued Thursday that granted him the authority to legislate without judicial oversight.

But many also used the mass protests as an opportunity to call for the downfall of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood backers, underscoring a complex political conflict in the newly democratic country that runs far deeper than the move that Morsi’s opponents have labeled a power grab.

Liberal and secular opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood has built up in recent months around the struggle to draft a new constitution — a document that will define Egypt’s legal framework after a popular uprising ended the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Protests broke out in Cairo on Friday after Morsi issued a “constitutional declaration” protecting the Islamist-dominated committee drafting the constitution and the country’s elected Shura Council against the possibility of a dissolution by Egypt’s top court.

Morsi’s spokesman attempted to clarify the measure Monday night, saying that it renders only “acts of sovereignty” immune from judicial appeal. But the explanation failed to satisfy the expanding opposition to the president, which has given rise to an unlikely alliance of liberal youth activists and old-regime elites.

As thousands converged on Tahrir Square on Tuesday night, some spoke of the president’s dictatorial overreach, but many also warned of the dangers of Islamist rule and said they wanted to see Morsi ousted. “Personally, I don’t know much about the constitution. But a veiled woman came up to me and told me that I’d have to wear the veil someday,” said Maiada Mounir, a 27-year-old protester who works in real estate. “So I said I had decided to go out to say that would never happen.”

The anti-Islamist rallying cry highlighted the emergence of competing realities in the fledgling democracy, where liberals and secularists say they have been underrepresented in the drafting of the new constitution — although electoral politics suggest otherwise.

Late last year, Egyptians voted a majority Islamist Parliament into power. And in a national election that monitors said involved few serious violations, they elected Morsi, the candidate of the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood.

“There are almost two Egypts out there. There is the Egypt in Tahrir, and there is the Egypt outside,” said Yasser El-Shimi, an Egypt analyst for the International Crisis Group. Beyond the centers of protest, El-Shimi said, popular support still seemed to favor the elected Islamists.

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