Thousands of Egyptian protesters demonstrated on Tuesday against President Mohamed Morsi's push to hold a snap referendum on a new constitution. The police fired tear gas on the protesters, as some broke through police lines around the presidential palace, according to Reuters.
The Associated Press reported that as many as 100,000 protestors took to the streets around the palace, where demonstrations became violent later in the day, leaving 18 with minor injuries. Protests were also underway in the coastal city of Alexandria.
Simmering anger against Morsi has boiled over among the opposition since Morsi announced a decree on Nov. 22 that would expand his powers, putting him above the reach of the Egyptian courts. The protesters on Tuesday chanted, "The people want the downfall of the regime," according to Reuters.
Reuters later reported that Morsi had left the palace as protesters clashed with police, citing two anonymous sources. A "presidential" source said Morsi had left the palace, while a security source also confirmed the news.
Morsi's decree not only makes him immune to judicial challenge, it also protects the Islamist-dominated upper house of Egypt's parliament and the assembly which wrote the constitution, noted Egyptian newspaper Ahram Online.
"Everything in the current constitution has been carefully constructed to serve Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood's agenda," political activist Nahid Rouchdy told Ahram Online. The constitutional referendum is slated for December 15.
The Associated Press noted that this is Egypt's worst political crisis since former President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown following weeks of protests.
The current conflict pits Morsi and the conservative Muslim Brotherhood, which dominates parliament, against youth groups, liberal parties and large segments of the public, according to the AP.
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From Cairo, GlobalPost's Erin Cunningham commented that the reports of clashes and tear gas being fired by riot police are "going to cause President Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood supporters to hunker down even more. The rhetoric and narratives will harden and become more incendiary. We can most likely expect a media push tomorrow by the Brotherhood that paints the demonstrators as thugs, or foreign-paid rioters. This polarization doesn't bode well for the upcoming constitutional referendum."
She continued, "Morsi has granted himself exceptional powers. Following clashes at the presidential palace — and some reports say protestors are actually on the grounds of the palace — I think one of the fears is that Morsi will use those powers to enact a serious crackdown on the protestors. That could mean sweeping arrests of activists in the coming days, or criminalizing certain types of protest."
The New York Times reported that eleven privately owned newspapers had stopped publication in protest of Egypt's draft constitution, which proposes limits on freedom of expression. At least three private television networks also said they would not broadcast on Wednesday. It's the sharpest strike yet in the push against the draft constitution.
GlobalPost's Erin Cunningham contributed reporting from Cairo.
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Here is raw footage of the protesters, via Reuters: