Cairo faces rival protests over constitution crisis

Mon Dec 10, 2012 5:32pm EST
 

CAIRO (Reuters) - Opponents and supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi's plans to vote on a new constitution will take to the streets in central Cairo later on Tuesday, risking more violent confrontation after last week's deadly clashes.

Leftists, liberals and other opposition groups have called for marches to the presidential palace in the afternoon to protest against the hastily arranged referendum planned for Saturday, which they say is polarizing the country.

Islamists, who dominated the body that drew up the constitution, have urged their followers to turn out "in millions" the same day in a show of support for the president and for a referendum they feel sure of winning and that critics say could put Egypt in a religious straitjacket.

Seven people were killed and hundreds wounded last week in clashes between the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and opponents besieging Mursi's graffiti-daubed presidential palace.

The elite Republican Guard has yet to use force to keep protesters away from the palace, now ringed with tanks, barbed wire and concrete barricades, but a decree issued by Mursi late on Sunday gives the armed forces the power to arrest civilians during the referendum and until the announcement of the results.

Leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahy, one of the most prominent members of the National Salvation Front opposition coalition, said Mursi was driving a wedge between Egyptians and destroying prospects for consensus.

As well as pushing the early referendum, Mursi has angered opponents by taking sweeping temporary powers he said were necessary to secure the country's transition to stability after a popular uprising overthrew autocratic former president Hosni Mubarak 22 months ago.

"The road Mohamed Mursi is taking now does not create the possibility for national consensus," said Sabahy.

If the constitution was passed, he said: "Egypt will continue in this really charged state. It is certain that this constitution is driving us to more political polarization."   Continued...

 
An anti-Mursi protester walks past graffiti depicting two activists who died recently, at Tahrir Square in Cairo December 10, 2012. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany