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Egypt freedoms in balance during constitutional showdown

Egyptian protesters swamped the presidential palace in Cairo today, angry at a draft constitution favored by President Morsi that many fear will limit freedoms.

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An anti-Morsi protester holds an Egypt flag as she walks in front of riot police in front of the presidential palace in Cairo Tuesday.
Egypt fell by six places in Transparency International’s corruption index to 118th place this year.

Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

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"You are reading this message because Egypt Independent objects to continued restrictions on media liberties, especially after hundreds of Egyptians gave their lives for freedom and dignity.”

That was the statement on one Egyptian newspaper’s website today as it participated with about a dozen other outlets in a news blackout to protest a new draft constitution championed by Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. A few hours later, Egypt's constitutional showdown reached an unprecedented peak, with tens of thousands of protesters marching on the presidential palace in Cairo, forcing President Morsi to flee in a motorcade that slipped out a back entrance. 

“We haven’t seen anything like it before,” says Michael Wahid Hanna of the Century Foundation, a think tank in New York.

The dramatic turn of events in Cairo is ultimately about freedom – or the lack of it – in the new Egypt. Under Hosni Mubarak, media censorship was the rule, and critics of his regime frequently faced jail time and abuse. That was supposed to be over when Mr. Mubarak fell in February 2011. But the crowds are back out on the streets now in fear that Morsi will simply end up putting an Islamist beard on the old Mubarak governing style. Now, much of the media is joining them in fighting to preserve the gains of the Egyptian uprising, alarmed by a constitutional draft that doesn't protect freedom of the press.

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