The crowd at Tahrir Square, while large, had little of the pulsing feel of possibility of the January and February 2011 protests that brought down Mubarak. Those demonstrations were bolstered by the Muslim Brotherhood, whose mobilization was the key factor in ending the leader’s 30-year reign in a matter of weeks. It was the inclusion of many segments of society that gave the opposition its legitimacy.
This time, the Muslim Brotherhood was gathered in front of the ornate Ittihadiya Palace, the seat of an executive branch that once forced them underground. Morsi, one of their own, was delivering his fiery address from a temporary stage that had as its backdrop an enormous banner reading, “The People Support Mohamed Morsi.”
“The people want the implementation of the sharia of God,” the crowded chanted at one point, a reference to laws derived from the Koran and Islamic traditions. “The people want to dissolve the constitutional court.” For the most part, the audience listened attentively to the 45-minute speech.
“There was a plan to destroy the country and the president,” said Walaa Ezzedin, 29, a pharmacist and supporter who came to listen to Morsi. “Those who are objecting are simply against the president. If he had taken the opposite position, they would have objected too.”
The distance between the two sides was evident at the palace and in Tahrir Square, where some of the younger, more affluent Egyptians who took part in the revolution that toppled Mubarak said they were surprised to find themselves aligned with former Mubarak supporters in denouncing Morsi’s moves.
“Overthrowing Morsi is a demand of the revolutionaries and also of the remnants of the old regime,” said Mohamed ElBeshlawy, 32, an accountant. “Now it’s going to be the two groups together. Winds do not blow as the ships wish. There’s going to be another angry revolution.”
Whatever the motivation for Morsi’s move, the effort to shield his government from judicial challenge wold remove “whatever checks and balances exist in Egypt at this point,” said Michele Dunne, a former member of the National Security Council staff under President Obama.
“It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Morsi has overreached, and that he did so partly on the strength of his recent diplomatic victory in Gaza,” said Dunne, now director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. She noted that Morsi had previously tried and failed to confront the judiciary in a tussle over the dissolution of Egypt’s parliament.
“He has ended up having to back down, but he keeps trying,’’ Dunne said.
Warrick contributed from Washington. Amer Shakhatreh contributed from Cairo.