Hundreds of Egyptians continued to demonstrate for a sixth consecutive day against President Mohamed Morsi on Wednesday as two of Egypt's highest courts said they will suspend work in protest of his decree last week granting himself judicial immunity.
Police fired tear gas into a crowd of stone-throwing protesters on a street near the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Other demonstrators staged a sit-in at Tahrir Square, the epicenter of protests during last year's ouster of Morsi's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.
The recent, ongoing protests are not just against Morsi, but also against the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization from which he came. Opposition groups are calling for the brotherhood's spiritual leader to get out of the way.
It is a stunning reversal for an organization that spent decades building good will among Egyptians, playing the long game of combining charity work and prayer to win hearts and minds.
It largely paid off. In June, its presidential candidate, Morsi, proved to many liberal and secular voters the better choice to lead a post-revolution society.
Morsi granted himself new powers in a November 22 decree, though, that bars the judiciary from challenging his decisions. The president says the decrees are designed to protect state institutions.
Morsi later promised the Supreme Judicial Council that he will restrict his newly self-granted powers to "sovereign matters." The vaguely worded statement, however, did not define the issues over which he would have absolute power.
In a move that could help resolve the political crisis, the assembly drafting a new constitution said it would complete work Wednesday on a final draft later. Three assembly members said a vote on the draft by the assembly was planned for Thursday. A new constitution would override Morsi's current moves.
But many liberals and other opponents of Morsi have in recent weeks ended participation in the assembly, which is dominated by Islamists. They say their voices are not being heard.
Mustafa el-Labbad, director of the Al Sharq Center for Regional and Strategic Studies, said Morsi is in dangerous political waters.
"If Mr. Morsi is not smart enough to step back from his declaration I think it would be a challenge not only for his constitutional declaration but for the whole legitimacy of Mr. Morsi and the legitimacy of the brotherhood," he said. "So it is a game with higher stakes now."
When elected, Morsi ended his official ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, promising to be the president of all Egyptians.
American University in Cairo professor Said Sadek said the president's initial steps after taking over from the interim military council showed promise.
"Dr. Morsi managed in the first two months to please Egyptians, even the skeptical people who opposed him and people who did not vote to him, by getting rid of the military generals and also taking some symbolic stances just to show that he is independent in his own foreign policy," he said.
But the president's pledge to present a diverse executive branch foundered, with key positions on both national and local levels being stacked with members of the Brotherhood.
Now, with the decrees handed down by Morsi last week, the check to such influence - the judicial branch - has been rendered at least temporarily impotent.
"Many people in Egypt are afraid now that the Muslim Brotherhood is going to take over the whole state," said political analyst Labbad. "The brotherhood and the chief of the brotherhood is not elected. All the others are not elected. What they are going to do in the presidency, in the different institutions of the society, in police, intelligence, army? So what are they doing there? And I think it is a turning point."
That turning point appears to be a long-elusive unity among secular forces, bringing nationalists, secularists, liberals and old guard members together and out in force on Cairo's Tahrir Square and other scenes of protest across the country.
Many of those opponents say it is political hubris - success at brokering a cease-fire in Gaza and the preliminary promises of Western loans - that prompted what some are calling a classic case of overreach.
Sadek said the Muslim Brotherhood simply has failed to keep up with the times. Its political instincts, and those who came from it, he contends, are too deeply rooted in the Egypt of before the revolution.
"They still act like the old, using old tactics and old policies and old ideas, which had been rejected," he said. "Now you have a modern Egypt. You have Egyptians in the last two years exposed to intensive political discourse."
Watch related video of anti-Morsi protesters in Cairo
Limits on discourse
Morsi's decrees put limits on that national discourse, a move he said is necessary to push through a new constitution and elections for a new parliament.
Critics counter that the new constitution would favor Islamists, a trend some see even in the actions of Morsi's wife after two deaths during the recent unrest.
One was a young man from the April 6 protest movement, the other a teenager supporting the Brotherhood.
"The wife of the president did not attend the funeral of the first, she only attended the funeral of the other one: as if this is a tribe, a clan and a family affair, but the rest of the Egyptians do not mean anything," Sadek said.
Political analysts express concern this feeling of polarization is likely to grow in the coming days, with no signs of compromise in sight.
Egypt's Cassation and Appeals courts said Wednesday they would go on strike until the Supreme Constitutional Court rules on the president's order granting himself immunity from judicial review.
The constitutional court has accused Morsi of an unjustified attack on its independence. In a statement released Wednesday, the court rejected charges made by the president that it is working to bring down his government.
VOA'S Mark Snowiss contributed to this report from Washington.
Protesters chant anti-government slogans in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, November 30, 2012.
Protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, November 30, 2012.
Merchants sell bread to protesters, some of whom have camped out in tents since last week, as opposition groups plan to gather for a rally in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, November 30, 2012.
Youths climb a wall that was built by police to prevent clashes between protesters and police at Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, November 29, 2012.
Youths walk next to a pirate flag on display by a street vendor in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, November 29, 2012.
Riot police and protesters throw stones at one another during clashes near Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, November 28, 2012.
Protesters run during clashes with police near Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, November 28, 2012.
A protester carries stones to throw at the police during clashes near Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, November 28, 2012.
A protester reads the Wafd, a local newspaper next to tents occupied by protesters in Tahrir Square, in Cairo, Egypt, November 28, 2012.
A shot of Tahrir Square in Cairo as night falls, November 27, 2012. (J. Weeks/VOA)
Egyptian security forces arrest a protester during clashes near Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, November 27, 2012.
An Egyptian protester blows a stadium horn as he gestures at a cordon of security forces near Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, November 27, 2012.
A protester throws stones at riot police during clashes at Tahrir Square in Cairo November 26, 2012.
Egyptians attend the funeral of youth activist Gaber Salah, also known as Gika, at the Omar Makram mosque in Cairo, November 26, 2012.
An Egyptian protester runs during clashes with security forces near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, November 25, 2012.