Last night, thousands of opposition protesters appeared in front of Egypt’s presidential palace in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis to voice their anger with President Mohamed Morsi’s draft constitution. Influenced almost completely by Muslim Brotherhood officials and their Salafist allies, the proposed constitution is a divisive document.At the protest, the mostly secular, upper middle class crowd went well beyond the demand for a constitutional dialogue, denouncing Morsi as a dictator and calling for his ouster. “Erhal!” (”Leave”), they chanted; “Dictator, Dictator, Morsi, it’s your turn!” was another cadence that filled the air outside the palace.
Though I was unable to confirm reports that state security were driven away from the protest, forced to leave their helmets and even teargas shells behind, I saw them boarding buses and trucks by the hundreds on Salah Salem Boulevard. Soon after, Morsi evacuated the presidential palace, with protesters pelting his motorcade with stones as it pulled away. The protest was apparently seen by the Muslim Brotherhood leadership as a major transgression. A red line had been crossed. As Yasser Borhami, a Salafist preacher supportive of Morsi, told Al Jazeera, the opposition provoked violence by “saying words insulting of the president.”
Each side took casualties and neither appears ready to relent. The polarization is deepening with each passing day. It appears that the fighting will persist as December 15, the date of the constitutional referendum, draws closer. If Morsi’s legitimacy is contingent on his ability to maintain stability, he risks forfeiting it by allowing the kind of violence seen in Roxy Square tonight to occur on his watch.
Mazhar Shaheen, the famed imam known as the “Tahrir Preacher” for his role in the January 25 revolution, said tonight, “What is happening threatens to lead to a civil war… We should all be ashamed to participate in the collapse of the nation.”