The 200,000 Egyptians who went to Tahrir Square to show support for President Morsi’s power grab not only purchased the rope with which he will hang them, they put the noose around their own necks.
At least 200,000 Islamists demonstrated in Cairo on Saturday in support of President Mohamed Mursi, who is rushing through a constitution to try to defuse opposition fury over his newly expanded powers.
“The people want the implementation of God’s law,” chanted flag-waving demonstrators, many of them bused in from the countryside, who choked streets leading to Cairo University, where Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood had called the protest.
The numbers swelled through the afternoon, peaking in the early evening at at least 200,000, said Reuters witnesses, basing their estimates on previous Cairo rallies. The authorities declined to give an estimate for the crowd size.
Mursi was expected later in the day to set a date for a referendum on the constitution hastily approved by an Islamist-dominated drafting assembly on Friday after a 19-hour session.
“We will certainly present the constitution to the president tonight,” Mohamed al-Beltagy, a Muslim Brotherhood leader and a member of the constituent assembly, told Reuters.
Mursi plunged Egypt into a new crisis last week when he gave himself extensive powers and put his decisions beyond judicial challenge, saying this was a temporary measure to speed Egypt’s democratic transition until the new constitution is in place.
His assertion of authority in a decree issued on November 22, a day after he won world praise for brokering a Gaza truce between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement, dismayed his opponents and widened divisions among Egypt’s 83 million people.
Two people have been killed and hundreds wounded in protests by disparate opposition forces drawn together and re-energized by a decree they see as a dictatorial power grab.
Tens of thousands of Egyptians had protested against Mursi on Friday. “The people want to bring down the regime,” they chanted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, echoing the trademark slogan of the revolts against Hosni Mubarak and Arab leaders elsewhere.
Rival demonstrators threw stones after dark in the northern city of Alexandria and a town in the Nile Delta. Similar clashes erupted again briefly in Alexandria on Saturday, state TV said.
Ideological fanaticism combined with religious fervor is a potent political combination that Morsi is exploiting to the fullest. His supporters will run interference for him until it is too late to stop the imposition of the sharia-friendly constitution. At that point, Morsi may indeed, drop his more extreme edicts about being above judicial review. But in a year or two, it won’t matter. He will have a compliant judiciary, fully in tune with his Islamist policies and sympathies.
If it wasn’t such a dangerous regime to peace in the region, we might be tempted to tell them to go hang themselves. But Egypt is the largest Arab country and a key to any scenario that envisions maintaining the peace. Morsi — for good or ill — is someone we will have to deal with for the foreseeable future.