CAIRO — Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi returned to work today, a day after slipping out of his palace when it came under siege from protesters furious at his drive to push through a new constitution after temporarily expanding his own powers.
The Health Ministry said 35 protesters were wounded and the Interior Ministry said 40 policemen were hurt in clashes around the presidential palace yesterday. While they fired tear gas when protesters breached barricades to reach the palace walls, riot police appeared to handle the disturbance with restraint.
A presidential source said Mursi was back in his office even though up to 200 demonstrators had camped out near one entrance to the palace in the northern Cairo district of Heliopolis overnight. Traffic was flowing normally in the area where thousands of people had protested the night before, and riot police had been withdrawn, a Reuters witness said.
The rest of the Egyptian capital Cairo was calm, despite the political furore over Mursi’s November 22 decree handing himself wide powers and shielding his decisions from judicial oversight.
The Islamist leader says he acted to prevent courts from derailing a newly drafted constitution that will go to a referendum on December 15, after which Mursi’s decree will lapse.
“Our demands from the president: retract the presidential decree and cancel the referendum on the constitution,” read a placard hung by demonstrators on a palace gate.
The crowds had gathered in what organisers had dubbed a “last warning” to Mursi.
“The people want the downfall of the regime!” they chanted, roaring the signature slogan of last year’s uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
But the “last warning” may turn out to be one of the last gasps for a disparate opposition which has little chance of stopping next week’s vote on a constitution drafted over six months and swiftly approved by an Islamist-dominated assembly.
Facing the gravest crisis of his six-month-old tenure, the Islamist president has shown no sign of buckling under pressure, confident that the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies can win the referendum and a parliamentary election to follow. (Reuters)