Egyptian protesters in Tahrir Square. (Photo credit GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Sarah Lynch, Special for USA TODAY
Angry chants filled Tahrir Square on Tuesday as around 100,000 people took to the streets of Cairo to protest a recent decree issued by President Mohammed Morsi granting him sweeping powers.
The protesters, waving Egypt's red, white and black flags and chanting slogans against Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood, joined several hundred who had been camping out since Friday demanding the decree be revoked.
"I'm against the constitution and the dictatorship of Mr. Morsi," says Horeya Naguib, whose first name in Arabic means freedom. "He is selling his own country and looks out for the interests of his group, not the people of Egypt."
Naguib said he had not been to the square to protest since the January 2011 revolution -- until Morsi announced the constitutional decree. That decree placed Morsi above any kind of oversight, including that of the courts, until a new constitution is adopted and parliamentary elections are held - a timeline that stretches to mid-2013.
Under the new constitution being written, Naguib believes "we won't have the right to talk. There will be no women's rights, children's rights," she says.
Voices bursting through megaphones kept up chants, drawing cheers when the names of opposition leaders Hamdeen Sabahi, Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Hamzawy were shouted. Demonstrators secured the square with barbed wire and metal bars, and on the southern perimeter of the square remnants of tear gas from previous clashes lingered.
Vendors set up shop, clumping chairs in sections of the square, as protesters hunkered down for the evening. The square smelled of popcorn, roasted sweet potatoes and warm seeds as hawkers carted goods through the crowd.
"The people want the fall of the regime!" protesters screamed beneath a banner high over the square stating, "Egypt is for all Egyptians."
"I'm here to say 'No' to Morsi's recent announcement," said Yasmin Tawfiq, a consultant for a development organization. "It's unlawful - against all laws in Egypt."
Tawfiq was also angered because she believes that Morsi has not yet made improvements for Egypt's people.
"We don't see him doing anything that helps poor people - education, health, you name it," she said.
During Egypt's 2011 revolution, protesters, too, demanded bread, freedom and social justice.
Morsi, who rose through the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, has the same mentality of 'listen and obey' as deposed former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, said protester Hossam Amer, a tour guide and Egyptologist. "Morsi with the Brotherhood and Mubarak with the military," he said.
Protesters, as they did for Mubarak, called for their leader -- this time Morsi -- to resign.
"This is the beginning of him stepping down, and the people will never be repressed," Amer said, marching with chanting and cheering crowds just before sunset.
The president's declaration last week of new powers for himself has energized and -- to a degree unified -- the mostly liberal and secular opposition after months of divisions and uncertainty.
Almost two dozen Egyptian rights groups collectively called on Morsi over the weekend to rescind the decree. "The balance and separation of powers in Egypt has thereby been utterly demolished," said a statement signed by 23 groups on the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies website.
"(It) destroyed the authoritative nature of court rulings and paved the way for state institutions to refuse to implement court orders, which may well lead to the spread of chaos in the country and the collapse of the idea of the state based on institutions rather than individual leaders," the statement said.
The opposition says the decrees give Morsi near dictatorial powers by neutralizing the judiciary at a time when he already holds executive and legislative powers. Leading judges have also denounced the measures. The nation's Supreme Judicial Council called the decrees an "unprecedented assault" on the judiciary's independence and rulings. Judges also threatened to strike, which could have broader implications as Egypt seeks an International Monetary Fund loan and tries to revive a struggling economy.
But Morsi's camp framed the decree as a necessary step to achieve steady governance as counter-revolutionary forces create problems and judiciary members seek to "harm the country."
"There are weevils eating away at the nation of Egypt," Morsi said in front of a crowd on Friday, the day after he announced his decree in a televised speech.
The controversial move comes amid a constitutional drafting process long embroiled in debate over issues including the role of Islamic law, presidential powers and the rights of minorities and women. Almost all secular members of the 100-member constituent assembly have withdrawn, said Abou El-Ghar, whose party members walked out of the committee.
Morsi says the decrees are necessary to protect the "revolution" and the nation's transition to democratic rule. His declaration made all his decisions immune to judicial review and banned the courts from dissolving the upper house of parliament and an assembly writing the new constitution, both of which are dominated by Islamists. The decree also gave Morsi sweeping authority to stop any "threats" to the revolution.
"What's happening is that Dr. Morsi took a decision for a limited time until the constitutional committee finished its work," said Dina Zakaria, a representative of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). "We find it's very important to settle down and make a step forward to stability."
The FJP appealed "to everyone to maintain a peaceful expression and national consensus" and "condemn and reject all forms of violence, assault, arson and destruction of institutions."
Zakaria, however, said that Morsi's decree is only intended to protect the revolution and democratic institutions that risked being dissolved.
"We believe that these decisions are important now because it's a very important critical transitional period and we want to move forward," she said.
Not so, says Salima El-Masry, carrying a bag of bananas on her way to the square. What Egypt has done is "basically change a one-man show -- the ex-regime -- to a new dictator," El-Masry says.
Contributing: Associated Press