On Dec. 4, tens of thousands of protesters packed the street in front the presidential palace in Cairo. Police and Interior Ministry security forces reportedly fired tear gas at protesters but were unable to stop them from cutting through the barbed wire that surrounds the building. There have been unconfirmed reports of protesters breaching the main gates, spraying graffiti on the palace walls, possibly reaching the rooftop of the palace, and waving flags in support of the protesters.
Meanwhile, other protesters have mounted at least one police vehicle parked in front of the palace. Reports indicate that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has left the building. So far, security forces have either been unable or unwilling to push the protesters back. A military spokesman has denied reports that the armed forces sent troops to protect the presidential palace. Other reports confirm that the security forces are largely composed of Interior Ministry troops. At this point, it is unclear what will happen next.
Organized by secular opposition forces, the protesters are demonstrating against a power grab by the president and the Muslim Brotherhood that included Morsi expanding his executive powers and the government pushing forward with plans for a referendum on a new constitution.
Recently approved by an Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly after walkouts by secularists, Coptic Christians and journalist members, the draft constitution is scheduled for a plebiscite Dec 15. Much of the Egyptian political opposition criticizes the draft for inadequately representing much of Egyptian society. Some elements within the Egyptian judiciary have refused to oversee the polls.
The protests were planned in advance in hopes of getting Morsi to step down. Whether they are successful depends on how dire the situation actually becomes. This is why today's protests are important: They raise the question of how the military will respond. So far, it has stayed out of the conflict, but if the protests get out of hand, it may have to shift its position.