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Opposition Protest In Cairo A Rare Show Of Unity

Protesters thronged to Tahrir Square on Tuesday night to protest the Egyptian president's recent decision to give himself and a committee drafting a new constitution unchecked power. It was the largest crowd at a demonstration in Egypt since Mohammed Morsi became president last summer and displayed a rare unity of the secular opposition in Egypt.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's go now to Cairo, where demonstrators swarmed Tahrir Square last night to denounce the Egyptian president's recent decision to give himself unchecked power. This was the largest protest since Mohamed Morsi became president last summer. And it was notable because Egypt's secular opposition found a rare moment of unity. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson was on the square and she sent this report.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in foreign language)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Waves of protesters marched into Tahrir Square from across Cairo. They shouted slogans heard during the revolution that ousted former leader Hosni Mubarak from power.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

NELSON: Down, down with the Morsi regime, was a common refrain. The reasons people came were far more varied. Ghada Osama, a university student and observant Muslim wearing a headscarf, says she and her friends came to express their anger over Morsi's decrees.

GHADA OSAMA: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: He's a dictator, she says.

OSAMA: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: She complains that instead of reforming the police and ending poverty, Morsi is giving himself legislative and judicial powers. But businessman Amr Sa'ad says he came to protest Islamists being in charge of his country.

AMR SA'AD: As you can see, most of the people here are moderate Egyptians. And they want to bring back the normal Egypt, the moderate Egypt.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIRECRACKER)

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

NELSON: Nineteen-year-old Tahrir protester Amna Magdy says she hoped their presence would send a strong message to the Brotherhood.

AMNA MAGDY: So, we still have hope that actually people are still aware that we are in a revolution and it's still continuing.

NELSON: But the group's officials dismissed the rally as sour grapes.

SOBHY SALEH: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Reached by phone, Sobhy Saleh, who is a leader with the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, accused the protesters of being Mubarak-era remnants, or felool, and their supporters.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in foreign language)

SALEH: Many protesters in Tahrir Square vowed to stay until the decrees were rescinded. But as is often the case here, few followed through. Live camera footage showed Egyptian police firing tear gas into the square this morning to try and disperse the dozens who remained.

NELSON: Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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