Egypt’s president has returned to his Cairo palace with hundreds of protesters still camped outside, a day after a mass outpouring of angry protests aimed at making him scrap sweeping new powers.
The political crisis has left the country divided into two: Mohammed Morsi, his Muslim Brotherhood and their ultra-conservative Islamist allies, versus an opposition made up of youth groups, liberal parties and large sectors of the public. And both sides have dug in their heels, signalling a protracted stand-off.
Buoyed by the massive turnout, the mostly secular opposition met to decide on next steps in the confrontation that began on November 22 with Mr Morsi’s decrees that placed him above oversight of any kinds and escalated after the president’s allies pushed through a draft constitution without the participation of liberals and Christians.
While calling for more mass rallies is the obvious course of action, activists said opposition leaders also were discussing whether to campaign for a “no” vote in a December 15 constitutional referendum or to call for a boycott.
Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood have been calling on the opposition to enter talks with the Islamist leader. But the opposition contends that is pointless unless the president first rescinds his decrees and shelves the draft charter.
Mr Morsi was in the Itihadiya presidential palace conducting business as usual when the complex was surrounded by tens of thousands of protesters chanting slogans reminiscent of those used during the 2011 revolution that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak.
He left through the back gate, but a presidential official said he had returned to work .
About 300 opposition supporters, meanwhile, were camped out in front of the palace’s main gate on Wednesday to press their demands. Mr Morsi, who narrowly won the presidency in a June election, his aides and visitors routinely use other gates.
The huge scale of the protests has dealt a blow to the legitimacy of the new charter, which Mr Morsi’s opponents say allows religious authorities too much influence over legislation, threatens to restrict freedom of expression and opens the door to Islamist control over day-to-day life.
The country’s powerful judges also have said they will not take on their customary role of overseeing the vote in protest.