CAIRO — Egypt on Wednesday plunged deeper into its worst political crisis since Islamist President Mohammed Mursi took office in June, with massive opposition rallies nationwide signalling a new “revolution” nearly two years after Hosni Mubarak was toppled.
Police early Wednesday fired teargas into Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where several hundred protesters spent the night after a mass rally to denounce Mursi’s power grab.
Clashes that have been erupting on streets just off Tahrir near the US embassy spilled into the square, with canisters falling into the crowd forcing protesters to run and sending clouds of teargas over the tents housing the demonstrators.
The outskirts of the square have seen sporadic clashes now entering their ninth day, in what started as an anniversary protest to mark one year since deadly confrontations with police in the same area.
Clashes also raged through the night between supporters and opponents of Mursi in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla and the canal city of Port Said. In Mahalla, 132 people were injured while 27 were hurt in Port Said, medical sources said. According to a security official, calm in both towns had been restored by morning.
Tuesday’s huge turnout for a protest rally in the iconic square in Cairo, as well as in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and most of Egypt’s 27 provinces, marked the largest mobilisation yet against the president. “The revolution returns to the square,” headlined the state-owned daily Al Akhbar. “Revolution to save the revolution,” said the independent daily Al Masry Al Youm in a bold front-page headline.
Protesters are furious at the decree that Mursi announced last Thursday allowing him to “issue any decision or law that is final and not subject to appeal”, which effectively placed him beyond judicial oversight.
US officials said Washington was closely following the drama unfolding in Egypt, with a warning that Cairo could put vast amounts of international aid at stake if it veers off the democratic course.
The situation was evolving, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. “I think we don’t yet know what the outcome of those are going to be. But that’s a far cry from an autocrat just saying, my way or the highway,” she said.
Nuland stressed that “we want to see Egypt continuing on a reform path to ensure that any money forthcoming from the IMF truly supports a stabilisation and a revitalisation of a dynamic economy based on market principles.”