CAIRO (AP) — Several thousand Egyptians rallied Friday in the first significant protests against the country's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, accusing him and his Muslim Brotherhood group of trying to monopolize power.
The main protest in Cairo, which began in the capital's landmark Tahrir Square and marched to the presidential palace from several locations, drew a fall smaller turnout than the mass demonstrations that helped topple Morsi's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, or the later rallies against the council of generals that took power after Mubarak's fall.
That lukewarm turnout suggests that even though many Egyptians oppose Morsi and his policies, the new president and his government enjoys a popular mandate and legitimacy that their predecessors did not.
There were no reports of violence in Cairo, but in in Egypt's second largest city of Alexandria, a mob wielding knives and sticks attacked around 1,000 anti-Brotherhood protesters. Several people were wounded and someone in the crowd fired tear gas. It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack.
The rallies against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood could serve as a test of how the new president will respond to the opposition's demands.
Protesters accuse Morsi of monopolizing power and say that he exceeded his authority when he assumed legislative powers after forcing senior generals into retirement following a deadly attack this month by militants that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula.
The protesters in Cairo appeared to be largely made up of supporters of the former regime and those calling for Egypt to remain a secular state. Notably absent, however, were Egypt's liberal and secular parties as well as the youth activists who helped engineer last year's uprising against Mubarak.
In Cairo, protesters carried Egypt's red, white and black flags and signs that read "Down with Brotherhood rule" whil chanting "illegitimate" in reference to Morsi's wide-sweeping powers.
Khairy Hassan, an English teacher taking part in the rally in Tahrir Square, accused the Brotherhood of betraying the people.
"What is happening from the Brotherhood is not accepted by logic or by people," Hassan said. "What is happening is that the 'Brotherhoodization' of the government."
Days before Morsi was sworn-in as president in late June, Egypt's then-ruling generals who were locked in a power struggle with the Islamists dissolved the Brotherhood-led parliament after the Supreme Court ruled that a third of the legislature was elected illegally.
The Mubarak-appointed generals also granted themselves legislative powers and the right to form the committee that would draft Egypt's new constitution — a stab at guaranteeing the military power over the future direction of the country.
Earlier this month Morsi struck back, pushing the most senior generals into retirement and giving himself full legislative powers, adding to the executive authority he already held as president.
Protesters also took aim at the Brotherhood, saying it does not have the legal status to operate as a non-governmental organization as required by law and complaining that the group's finances are out of government purview.
The Brotherhood's political arm, though, known as the Freedom and Justice Party, was formed after the uprising and does have legal status.
The Brotherhood has been in existence for more than 80 years, and did not register itself in Egypt in the past because it was outlawed and persecuted under previous regimes.
"The Muslim Brotherhood should not be above the Egyptian law," said protester Mohamed Amin. "They have to adhere to the Egyptian law pertaining to political parties, civil societies and associations by paying taxes."
The Brotherhood, which has on numerous occasions in the past 17 months demonstrated its ability to mobilize thousands of people into the streets, called upon its members to secure the group's offices in case of attacks by protesters after some had called for violence against Brotherhood property.