More than 100,000 people flocked to Cairo's central Tahrir square on Tuesday, chanting against Egypt's Islamist president in a powerful show of strength by the opposition demanding Mohammed Morsi revoke edicts granting himself near autocratic powers.
Waving Egypt's red, white and black flags, crowds of protesters marched across Cairo to stream into the iconic plaza, as opposition to the decrees issued last week turned into a broader expression of anger against the rule of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood.
Shortly after nightfall, Tahrir, birthplace of the uprising that toppled authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago, was filled with a crowd that appeared to easily exceed 100,000, even before the arrival of thousands more still marching there. The protest was comparable in size to the daily Tahrir rallies during last year's 18-day uprising.
Ringing out at the square was the central chant of the 2010-2011 Arab Spring revolts: "The people want to bring down the regime," and "erhal, erhal"; Arabic for "leave, leave."
"Suddenly Morsi is issuing laws and becoming the absolute ruler, holding all powers in his hands," said protester Mona Sadek, a 31-year-old engineering graduate who wears the Islamic veil, a hallmark of piety. "Our revolt against the decrees became a protest against the Brotherhood as well."
Even as the crowds swelled in Tahrir, clashes erupted nearby between several hundred young protesters throwing stones and police firing tear gas on a street off Tahrir leading to the U.S. Embassy. Mist-like white clouds caused by the tear gas hung close to the ground at the area. Clashes have been taking place at the site for several days, fueled by anger over police abuses, separately from the crisis over Morsi.
The strong turnout for the rallies, which also took place in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and other cities, escalates a standoff between Morsi and the opposition over his declaration last week of new powers for himself. So far, Morsi has shown no sign of backing down to demands he rescind the edicts, which effectively neutered the judiciary, the only government branch capable of balancing the presidency.