Cairo: Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood were readying nationwide demonstrations on Sunday in support of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in his showdown with judges over the path to a new constitution.
A show of strength on the streets, expected after Muslim sunset prayers, has the potential for triggering clashes with opponents of the sweeping new powers Morsi assumed on Thursday and who remained camped out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Share prices on the Egypt Exchange plunged 9.59 percent in the face of the deepening political crisis, closing at 4,917.73 points, with heavy selling forcing a half-hour suspension of trade at one point.
The US embassy warned Americans to avoid all places where demonstrations were likely to be held as Western concern mounted over the potential of Morsi’s power grab to spark new violence in the Arab world’s most populous state.
A Brotherhood statement called on its well-organised supporters to hold demonstrations after sunset in all of Egypt’s main cities to “support the decisions of the president.”
The Brotherhood’s political arm insists that Morsi’s decree, which place his decisions beyond judicial review, was a necessary move to prevent the courts from disbanding the Islamist-dominated panel drawing up a new constitution.
The courts had already dissolved the Islamist-dominated lower house of parliament.
A high court ruling that had been due next month would have had the potential to prolong an already turbulent transition from veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak’s rule since his overthrow in a popular uprising early last year, the Freedom and Justice Party said.
The judges have hit back, denouncing “an unprecedented attack on the independence of the judiciary and its rulings” and calling for the courts to stop work nationwide.
Judges in two of the country’s 27 provinces, including Mediterranean metropolis Alexandria, heeded the strike call on Sunday while those in the rest were meeting to decide their response, the Judges Club said.
Adding to the crisis, the Journalists Syndicate called for a general strike to demand that any new constitution protect press freedoms, but no date was set.
Tahrir Square, one of the capital’s crossroads, remained closed to traffic on Sunday as Morsi opponents pressed their sit-in.
By afternoon, more tents were erected in Tahrir, where protesters have been camping out since Friday to demand that Morsi rescind his decree.
On the outskirts of the square, clashes between police and protesters entered their second week, with the violence occasionally spilling into Tahrir.
Anti-riot police began erecting a concrete barrier to keep the Tahrir protesters away from nearby government buildings, witnesses said, adding that they made a string of arrests in streets surrounding the square.
The protesters have the backing of all of Egypt’s leading secular politicians.
Former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei, and former presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabbahi, Amr Mussa and Abdelmoneim Abul Futuh, said in a joint statement on Saturday that they would have no dialogue with Morsi until he rescinded his decree.
The US embassy said it had advised its staff to avoid the city centre “to the extent possible until further notice.”
“As a matter of general practice, US citizens should avoid areas where large gatherings may occur,” it added in a security notice on its website.
Morsi’s opponents have called for a mass demonstration in Tahrir on Tuesday.
The Muslim Brotherhood has also called a “million man” demonstration, but have changed the location in an apparent bid to avoid clashes on the day.
Washington, which only Wednesday voiced fulsome praise for Morsi’s role in brokering a truce between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers to end eight days of deadly violence, has led international criticism of his power grab.
“The decisions and declarations announced on November 22 raise concerns for many Egyptians and for the international community,” US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Friday.
“One of the aspirations of the revolution was to ensure that power would not be overly concentrated in the hands of any one person or institution,” she added.