Putting the pressure on

The widening rift between Islamist and opposition protesters was evident Tuesday night as tens of thousands of protesters who fear that a constitution entrenching Islamist rule will be endorsed besieged the presidential palace in Heliopolis.

As secular and anti-Morsy demonstrators marched on the palace at 4 pm, their worry seemed to, at least in part, transform into joy as their numbers increased.

One of the largest marches began at Rabea al-Adawiya Mosque in Nasr City, with scores of protesters in sight for some 500 meters up Tayaran Street.

 Demonstrators chanted “The protest is peaceful, peaceful” as they pushed the barbed wire erected by security forces about 300 meters from the palace. Fifteen minutes later, the protesters were marching on the palace and riot police retreating with no resistance. But police then started hurling tear gas at the protesters around the same time eyewitnesses said the president was leaving the palace from a rear entrance. The protesters attempted to block the president's convoy but security forces prevented their advance. Cries of “Here comes the coward,” could be heard.

After a few skirmishes, the police withdrew and let the protesters advance. Presidential guards remained inside the palace and did not make an appearance.

The protesters, who remained peaceful, encircled the palace from all directions, filling Ibrahim al-Laqqany, Ahram and Mirghany Streets.

In February last year, the Muslim Brotherhood was among the ranks of protesters who marched from Tahrir Square to the palace the day President Hosni Mubarak resigned. Morsy was also among those who hailed the popular protests that brought Mubarak down, but today he finds himself on the other side of the wall.

The protesters scrawled slogans, insults and warnings on the walls of the palace.

"No to the military and to Brotherhood rule," they yelled, angry over Morsy's recent efforts to increase his powers and speed the constitution through a referendum in mid-December.

The protesters also threatened to protest in front of Morsy's private residence in the upscale Fifth Settlement neighborhood if their demands are ignored.

As the marchers invited residents in Heliopolis and Nasr City to join them, they even drew some "couch party" members, who typically forego street action.  

First-time protester Roqqaya Megahed, a Heliopolis resident in her 60s, says the country has deteriorated under military rule and added that she fears Islamists will plunge the country into darkness.

"I'm following the developments in the country and the way the [Brotherhood] are running the country," she said. "The Constitutional Declaration just made me feel that enough is enough."

As they prepare to continue a sit-in outside the palace and demonstrations in Tahrir, secular and anti-Morsy forces are buoyed by recent protest turnout. They hope Tuesday's demonstration, especially following the large Islamist rally supporting the president outside Cairo University last weekend, may show Morsy that they too can mobilize supporters.

They are also growing more confident that Morsy might give into their demands to abolish his constitutional declaration and scrap the draft constitution, or at least be persuaded to reach some compromises.   

While Islamists say the referendum on the constitution scheduled for 15 December gives the voters the final say, civil powers reject the referendum and insist that the Constituent Assembly that drafted the charter is illegitimate. The National Salvation Front, an alliance of opposition parties and groups, has endorsed the call for the president to dissolve the assembly and start over by forming a new, more representative body.

"Morsy has not proven to be the president of all Egyptians — he is the president of Islamists. Every day we become more sure that the country is moving backwards," said Mona Darwish, a laboratory physician.

Another protester, Sherine Roshdy, said some of her friends have left the country.

“This is our last battle. If we lose it, I’ll send my children to study abroad. I see no future for them here.”

Engineer Sherine Adel said, "I'm protesting because I want the country to be a home for all Egyptians. We have gotten rid of the National Democratic Party [Mubarak's former party] and we do not want a group that runs the country for its own interest."

The National Salvation Front said it is organizing more protests Friday under the title "The Red Card."

Wael Nawara, assistant secretary general of Ghad al-Thawra party, said, “The ball is in the president’s court. His slowness in responding to the demands will cause the ceiling of demands to go up by Friday. The demands will then be for the president to leave.”

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