Thousands Demonstrate in Egypt in First Sizable Protest Against Morsi Regime

Opposition to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood is likely to cause the new president to step up pressure on Egyptian media, despite his recent move to ban arrests for 'publishing crimes.'

Thousands demonstrated Friday in Cairo against President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, in the first protest of such scope since the new Egyptian president took office in June. The protesters marched from Tahrir Square to the president's office in Cairo, while a similar procession took place in Alexandria. Both demonstrations ended in clashes between supporters and opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Despite declarations by the leadership of the protest movement and Morsi's representatives that citizens have the right to stage peaceful protests, including those against the president, certain Muslim Brotherhood members decided to stage counter-protests. Clashes and stone throwing ensued between the groups, leaving 13 people wounded.

The protest leaders had promised to kick start the "August 24 Revolution," but the relatively small number of participants showed to what extent the movement failed to garner the support of the Egyptian public. On the other hand, the fact that the protest was staged at all during a time when the Muslim Brotherhood controls all state institutions, including the media, shows how strong the opposition to Morsi's reign is among the secular opposition.

Muslim Brotherhood members claim the leaders of the protest movement are ousted generals of the Egyptian military council, but the real picture seems far more complicated. The opposition to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood is comprised today of liberal movements, left-wing secular movements and, of course, loyalists of the former regime, who are cautiously following every step of the Muslim Brotherhood and the new president.

In a move meant to diffuse criticism against himself prior to the protest, Morsi announced on Thursday that he would release the chief editor of Al-Dustour newspaper, Islam Afifi, who was accused of "insulting the president," and by issuing a decree banning arrests for "publishing crimes."

Morsi, however, continues to maintain a strong hold over legislation, in a state that supposedly operates under a parliamentary system (the Lower House was dispersed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, but Morsi announced that it would reconvene).

Afifi continues to face allegations and is expected to appear in court. Furthermore, the decision of the Shura Council, the Upper House of parliament, to appoint 53 new editors to government newspapers, the vast majority of whom identify with the Muslim Brotherhood, is stirring discontent among secular Egyptians.

While the number of people participating in Friday's demonstration was not large, it was still the most sizable public protest in Egypt against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to date. A source of concern for the president, the protest is likely to lead Morsi to apply greater pressure on the media, which takes the liberty of criticizing the president, via the new information minister, Salah Abd al-Maksud, among other means.

In the past, al-Maksud served as an editor at newspapers with Islamist inclinations and was one of Morsi's media advisors during his presidential election campaign. Another step the president has taken in the past few days was to appoint the presidential team that is supposed to accompany Morsi through decision making.

Despite these calming steps, it can be assumed that as time passes and Egypt's irresolvable problems refuse to disappear, even editors and ministers with Islamic inclinations will not be able to conceal protests against the president and his movement.