Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's recent power grab has brought
thousands of protestors to Tahrir Square, the biggest show of
popular frustration against Egypt's leader and the Muslim
Brotherhood that backs him since his election in June.
But whether they can organize themselves enough to make him back
down is unclear.
Egypt's secular and liberal opposition has been wracked by
divisions since the uprising that toppled former President Hosni
Mubarak 22 months ago, allowing Islamist parties to dominate the
country's democratic transition. But last week's decision by
President Morsi, an Islamist, to eliminate most of the checks on his
power and protect a controversial constitutional committee from
dissolution may have finally given the various opposition groups
what they need most: a cause they can all rally around.
Unable to put aside personal politics and infighting and build
sufficient grassroots networks to challenge the already-established
Islamist groups, secular parties captured less than a quarter of the
seats in the first elected parliament after the uprising. The
opposition's current disarray means it is unlikely to successfully
press Morsi to reverse his decision on its own, say analysts.
Now, many are waiting to see whether Egypt's opposition can work
together long enough to mount a sustained challenge to Morsi and his
backers, or if they will repeat the mistakes of the last year and a
For the moment, Morsi's decree has united most of the non-
Islamist, and even some moderate Islamist, groups in Egypt and
brought tens of thousands of people to Tahrir Square.
"This is a very big test for the opposition because they have a
cause that they can defend. And it's a very strong cause and a big
cause and a public cause, and I think it's a very good chance for
the opposition to build its base and rally the streets and rally
people," says Bassem Sabry, a blogger and writer. "But the test is
not 'can the opposition band together in three days?' The question
is how they can band together for three months, and another three
months after that."
Last week Morsi issued a constitutional decree declaring his
decisions immune from judicial review until a new constitution is
written. He also declared that the committee writing Egypt's new
constitution, and the upper house of parliament, are protected from
being disbanded by a court decision. A court dissolved the first
constituent assembly earlier this year, and a second case due to be
decided soon could lead to the same outcome for the second body.
Parliamentary elections, to replace the body dissolved by the
courts, are scheduled to take place only after a new constitution is
adopted in a national referendum. In the absence of an elected
parliament, Morsi holds legislative power as well as executive. By
sidelining the judiciary, he removed nearly all checks on his power.
Morsi says the move was not an attempt to grasp unlimited power,
but was necessary to keep the judiciary, which includes Mubarak
appointees many consider corrupt, from putting up endless roadblocks
on Egypt's transition to stability. His critics say it places near
dictatorial power in his hands.
The president met yesterday with the country's highest judiciary
body to try to keep judges from mounting a rebellion against his
edict, but the resulting statement that only Morsi's decisions on
vaguely defined "sovereign matters" were immune from judicial review
did not satisfy opposition leaders, parties, and unaffiliated
Egyptians, who gathered by the thousands in Tahrir Square today.
The Muslim Brotherhood cancelled a large protest it had called in
Cairo in support of Morsi, for fear the two groups would clash.
Brotherhood demonstrations were reportedly planned for other cities,
On Nov. 24, dozens of political parties, opposition groups, and
former presidential candidates announced that they would work
together against the president's decree, and called for today's