19th Mar 2018

Egyptian protester: 'We are getting a bad image in Europe'

  • Handful of tourists in what should be a crowd-packed pyramid site in Cairo. Its bad image is costing it billions in lost income (Photo: EUobserver)

Tens of thousands of Egyptians marched in protest in Cairo on Tuesday (4 December) in an escalating dispute on the country's post-revolutionary future.

"The Muslim Brotherhood is giving Egypt a bad image in Europe. People will think that we are all like them - that we are not democrats and that we are violent, that we want to kill people in the name of Islam. I am also a Muslim but I am not like them," Osama, a 38-year-old Egyptian businessman who took part in the rally, told EUobserver.

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"This is a final warning to [the new Egyptian President Mohamed] Morsi," Sarwat, a 54-year-old biochemist and tourist guide, said.

The protest started at around 5pm local time, with streams of people converging on the presidential palace from various parts of the capital.

One group, from Cairo's middle class Nasr City district, marched past the defence ministry waving Egyptian flags.

The protesters - including Muslim women in veils, women in Western dress carrying children, old men in traditional Egyptian robes and young men in suits - chanted "bahel! [not valid]," referring to Morsi's new draft constitution.

They also yelled "arehl! [Morsi get out]" and "aish horriah! [bread and freedom]," as well as "anzel! [come down]," to encourage people watching them from balconies in overlooking tower blocks to join in.

There was a brief outbreak of violence when activists cut through barbed wire near the palace, prompting police to use batons and to fire tear gas, injuring 18 people, according to Egyptian news.

Another large group chanted slogans and songs late into the night in Tahrir Square in central Cairo.

But the rest of the vast capital city went about its business as usual.

For his part, Morsi left the palace as the crowds grew in number.

His actions stood in contrast to a pro-Morsi rally of a similar size organised by the Muslim Brotherhood - a broad political movement with branches in several Arab countries - also in Cairo last Friday.

It dos not advocate political or religious violence. But some commentators believe it contains extremist elements.

The unrest comes after Morsi one week ago gave himself absolutist new powers, removing presidential oversight by the country's constitutional court.

He said the move is temporary and will be lifted after a referendum on 15 December on a new constitution, which enshrines aspects of the Muslim "sharia" code of behaviour into Egyptian law and gives the president's office more sway in national affairs.

EU countries have promised Egypt billions of euros in aid in a bid to stabilise its economy after the revolution last year and to maintain Western influence in the largest Muslim country in the Middle East.

But Morsi's recent actions have caused concern in Brussels.

"No President of Egypt has placed himself beyond judicial oversight to such extent," a group of 13 cross-party MEPs wrote in an open letter to EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton last week.

"While we favour a close partnership between the EU and Egypt we consider that fundamental principles, such as the separation of powers, an independent judiciary and the rule of law, should be at its base," they added.

For his part, Mohammed, a pro-Morsi school teacher and taxi driver in Cairo, told this website that he trusts Morsi because the president's Islamic faith guarantees that he is not corrupt and because the majority of Egyptians want the country to be run on Islamic lines.

But biochemist and tourist guide Sarwat noted that the new president is doing little to address the concerns of Egypt's liberal and more secular classes.

"He gave a speech at the Muslim Brotherhood protest but he did not speak to us tonight [Tuesday]. This shows that he has taken sides, that he is not the president of all Egyptians," Sarwat said.

"I am an educated man and I have read the new constitution. But I don't know what it really means. You have to be a legal expert and when I see the experts on TV, even they are arguing about the real meaning of this or that paragraph," he added.

"Many of Morsi's supporters cannot read or write. And these are the people who will decide about my country in the referendum," he said.

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