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Tens of thousands converged in Tahrir Square Tuesday for a show of force that promised to unite secular political powers and restore some of the balance recently lost to Islamists. The call to protest against President Mohamed Morsy's constitutional declaration was clear: "The revolution has a nation to protect. "
Cries of "The people want to bring down the regime" echoed once again throughout the square, although the most commonly voiced demands were more practical. Participants want a new, more balanced Constituent Assembly, the trial of those responsible for protester deaths and, most importantly, the abrogation of the declaration.
Morsy provoked outrage Thursday when he put himself above judicial review until a new Parliament is in place, extended the Constituent Assembly's mandate two additional months and protected it and the Shura Council from dissolution.
Following initial protests against the decision Friday, protesters of all ages came together again Tuesday. Motivated by fear for the revolution and their rights, they pushed back against Morsy's autocratic decision and inaction on campaign promises, as well as military and religious domination of political affairs.
"A state of fury has been provoked by the loss of the rights of the martyrs, the failure to manage state affairs and the suppression of freedoms," said Gamila Mahmoud, who works in media.
Tamer al-Qady, the owner of an art production company, and actor Sherif Zaki had been in Tahrir since Friday. When they went home for a break and returned Tuesday afternoon, they said they were surprised and encouraged by the turnout.
"I am very happy that the people are still showing awareness. They no longer buy into the talk about stability and the [economic] production wheel," says Zaki. "They thought they were the majority and they believe that having the support of the majority gives them the right to do anything."
Zaki says protester numbers are proof balance is being restored.
Those numbers were aided by marches pouring into the square in the evening. Thousands of mostly Popular Current members marched from Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque and were later joined by Hamdeen Sabbahi, the group's leader. Activist Mohamed ElBaradei led the Constitution Party from Dawaran Shubra. A third group of protesters came from Al-Fateh Mosque in Ramses Square and lawyers, journalists and actors also staged other marches.
Opposition forces have been fractured and disorganized since presidential elections, but there is evidence they are beginning to reunite. Civilian leaders such as ElBaradei, Sabbahi and former presidential candidate Amr Moussa have joined forces with their respective parties to form the National Salvation Front.
"We will not have a dialogue with the president until he cancels the constitutional declaration," Sabbahi said Monday during a press conference for the front.
Elbaradei, in an interview published Monday in Al-Masry al-Youm, said, "I lived my whole life believing in the importance of dialogue and working to find middle ground in diplomatic crises, but there are no compromises on principles."
He called on the international community to take action over Morsy's power play.
Standing their ground
With the chief public prosecutor removed and judges on strike to protect the judiciary's independence, the president's office initially signaled it would work toward compromise.
After a failed meeting with judges earlier in the week, however, its rhetoric lately has suggested an unwillingness to backtrack.
The political leadership is not retreating "one iota" on the declaration, the president's chief of staff, Mohamed Refaa al-Tahtawi, told Al-Hayat 2 satellite channel Tuesday evening.
Morsy's supporters have been equally firm in their stance.
"Morsy has pre-empted the opposition," Mahmoud Hussein, a member of the Brotherhood's Guidance Bureau, said after delivering a lecture at the Finsbury Park Mosque in London.
Parking attendant Essam Hanafy says Morsy's decisions are "normal," and that previous presidents have imprisoned their opponents to protect their decisions.
"Those protesting love revolt and will oppose anything. The president has the right to immunize his decisions against those who want fame and hamper everything."
Essam al-Erian, vice president of the Freedom and Justice Party, told CNN that the constitutional declaration was not a miscalculated step. It is intended to protect the revolution, he said, claiming that many of those taking part in ongoing protests are “counter-revolutionary feloul.”
Civilian political powers says the abolition of the constitutional declaration is a precondition for engaging in dialogue with Morsy. They also say a consensus needs to be reached on controversial items in the new constitution.
Amid calls for another mass protest Friday and the ongoing Tahrir sit-in, neither side appears ready for appeasement.
This piece was translated from Arabic by Dina Zafer.