Egyptians Protest Mursi Decree in Front of Presidential Palace

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. They are angry in downtown Cairo. Today, tens of thousands of protestors clashed with police near Egypt's presidential palace. And they shouted at the man inside that palace in a scene reminiscent of the Egyptian people's revolution last year. The demonstrators in Cairo now are against the new Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, and his allies. The protestors want Morsi to revoke the decree he issued granting himself broad new powers and they're demanding the withdrawal of a constitution written by Islamist lawmakers which Morsi wants to put to a vote next week. Reporter Noel King is in Cairo. Noel, just describe the protests today and what you saw in terms of reaction from forces of law and order.

Noel King: Well, the numbers outside of the presidential palace in the Heliopolis neighborhood remain in the tens of thousands and possibly even in the hundreds of thousands. It's really difficult to tell without getting an aerial view, but the aerial views that we've seen suggest that these numbers really are extraordinary. Now we've seen a pullback of some of the clashes that we saw a little bit earlier. What seems to have happened is that a group of protestors broke through the police line and the police responded, or the authorities responded by firing teargas at them. That lead to about two dozen injuries, but in the meantime what seems to have happened is the police understood that they weren't really gonna win this fight. They've pulled back and at the moment everything seems to be peaceful.

Werman: Right, we heard some of that teargas just a moment ago in some of those sound effects from the protests. Now, this protest today, part of this protest happened right in front of the presidential palace, as we said, like a scene from the 2011 uprising, but this time they're angry at Morsi, not Mubarak, obviously.

King: That's right and you know, the opposition, the thing that they really needed to prove today with their opposition to Morsi was that they had the numbers. Remember, this is an opposition that's been really fractured since the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak. They've been divided among themselves, there's been a lot of infighting, and in the meantime President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood have attained a great deal of political power. And so what the opposition has been trying to do this week and part of this movement at the presidential palace today was proving this is that they do have hundreds of thousands of Egyptians—they like to say millions of Egyptians who are willing to stand beside them in these type of peaceful protests. Now, interestingly, we're seeing this not just outside of the presidential palace in Cairo, but in Tahrir Square in front of Maspero as well, which is the state television building. And in other cities throughout the country, like Luxor, Urgada, Asyut, places where you don't normally see these kind of protests. So the take away for the opposition today is gonna be we proved to you President Morsi that we do have the numbers that you are facing a really unified, coherent, and very, very large opposition. Now the response from the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi has been somewhat dismissive. What they said about an hour ago was the numbers of protestors outside of the presidential palace weren't anymore than 2,000, which seems very laughable to people here on the ground. But what they're trying to say in response is you don't have the numbers, and you never did and we are going to push ahead with this constitutional decree.

Werman: Now the referendum on the draft constitution is set for December 15 and liberals say no matter whether or not they vote in this referendum, they lose. Can you explain that?

King: Yes, absolutely, what they say is if they boycott the referendum it goes ahead and this constitution passes, then they're stuck with a constitution that they don't like. However, if the constitution doesn't pass then Mohammed Morsi is going to hold onto the powers. Remember, he has said he's willing to give up this far reaching authority as soon as Egypt has a new constitution. If it doesn't, he remains with this broad authority.

Werman: So tomorrow the media in Egypt is planning a kind of blackout, what they're calling a dark day. What is that all about?

King: That's right, there were about 11 newspapers that went on strike today and tomorrow about five, so far five independent TV stations say they're not going to broadcast. The fact of the matter is journalists are not happy with this new constitution. They say simply it does not protect freedom of the press. Instead, it does things like it charges journalists with upholding public morality, which they are very displeased by.

Werman: Well, we're gonna hear more about that in just a moment. Noel King in Cairo, thank you so much.

King: Thank you.