Factions hold rallies across Egypt


Tens of thousands of supporters and opponents of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi yesterday took part in duelling demonstrations in Cairo and across the country.

As Mr Morsi’s fundamentalist allies gathered in north Cairo to listen to exhortations of Muslim Brotherhood and radical Salafi cheerleaders, secularists marched to the presidential palace in the wealthy Heliopolis district.

Youths dismantled a section of the cement block barricade around the palace erected by the Republican Guard last weekend, enabling thousands to join hundreds of soldiers deployed next to the palace wall.

Protesters waved huge white banners, swept the sky with green laser beams, and projected on to buildings images of Muslim Brotherhood toughs beating opponents of the referendum on the draft constitution set to be held on Saturday.

Secular liberals condemn the document, written by fundamentalists, for failing to safeguard the rights of women and minorities, for giving Muslim clerics authority to interpret constitutional provisions and for granting the military freedom from judicial oversight.

“Illegitimate” process

Human rights activist Ghada Shabender told The Irish Times the text, drafting and voting on the document were “illegitimate” because Christians and women were excluded.

Opponents complained that Mr Morsi initially set a period of two months for discussion of the document before submitting it to referendum but changed his mind, plunging the country into crisis by pressing the fundamentalist-dominated constituent assembly to complete the draft by last weekend.

The Salafi Noor party joined the Brotherhood in support of Mr Morsi’s policies, believing that a united fundamentalist camp would muster a majority in favour of the constitution.

The main opposition National Salvation Front, led by Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, was divided over whether to back a boycott or a No vote.

Street activists, frustrated over the Front’s dithering, called upon secular liberals and critics of the text to go to the polls and vote against it.

The failure to reconcile the two camps has deepened the polarisation of the country four days before the referendum that is set to decide how Egypt is to be governed following the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. According to Egyptian and European diplomatic sources, the military has adopted a neutral stance. It is determined to contain violence and is pressing the sides to resolve differences through dialogue. If division persists, Egypt may fail to secure aid, including a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan, and investment to rescue the economy.