Protests target president’s palace
New draft of constitution sparks even more outrage.
CAIRO — Egyptian riot police fired tear gas Tuesday night at tens of thousands of demonstrators who were converging on the presidential palace in Cairo to protest the country’s new draft constitution, which was rushed to completion last week by an assembly dominated by Islamists.
After firing one round of gas canisters, police quickly retreated inside the walls of the palace grounds, apparently to avoid further clashes.
The huge scale of the protests Tuesday dealt a blow to the legitimacy of the new charter, which goes before the country’s voters in a referendum scheduled for Dec. 15.
The secular and antiIslamist groups that organized the protests say that the draft constitution allows religious authorities too much influence over the Egyptian state and have even likened it to the blueprints drawn up for Iran by Ayatollah Khomeini before the 1979 revolution there.
Protest organizers are still debating whether to urge Egyptians to vote against the constitution or to boycott the referendum entirely. Either way, many have their eyes on elections for a new parliament that would be held two months after the constitution is approved. They hope to capitalize on a public backlash against the heavy-handed tactics employed in the constitution-drafting process by President Mohammed Morsi and his Islamist allies to gain seats in the new parliament and diminish the Islamists’ political power.
The first parliament elected after the overthrow of the strongman Hosni Mubarak was dominated by Islamists, but that body was dissolved by the courts, and Morsi has been governing by decree since then.
The country’s private media outlets mounted a protest of their own against the draft constitution’s limits on freedom of expression. Eleven newspapers withheld publication Tuesday, and at least three private television networks said they would not broadcast today.
“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 website of Egypt Independent, the English-language sister publication of the country’s largest independent daily, Al Masry Al Youm, on Tuesday morning. By the afternoon, the website was back to normal.
Fireworks burst over Tahrir Square as thousands gathered Tuesday in sometimes violent protests against President Mohammed Morsi in Cairo.