Egypt’s Islamists rally for Mursi as rifts widen
Thousands of Islamists rallied on Saturday in support of President Mohammed Mursi’s new expanded powers and the drafting of a contested charter, in a clear show of Egypt’s widening polarisation.
The demonstration in the heart of Cairo comes a day after tens of thousands of Mursi opponents converged on Tahrir Square to protest against the president’s decree and the speedy adoption of the draft constitution.
The charter has taken centre stage in the country’s worst political crisis since Mursi’s election in June, squaring largely Islamist forces against secular-leaning opponents.
It is expected to go to a popular referendum within two weeks.
Members of the constituent assembly were due to hand Mursi at 4.00pm the final draft of the constitution adopted after a marathon overnight session on Thursday that was boycotted by liberals, seculars and Christians.
Thousands of pro-Mursi demonstrators including from the Muslim Brotherhood, on whose ticket Mursi ran for office, and other hardline Salafists gathered at Cairo University, with riot police on standby and roadblocks in place.
“The Muslim Brotherhood supports President Mursi’s decisions,” read a banner carried by Islamists who chanted: “The people want the implementation of God’s law”.
Veiled women ullulated among the protesters who carried Egyptian and Saudi flags and posters of Mursi, with banners reading “Together (with Mursi) to save the revolution”.
“There are people who want instability,” said demonstrator Khaled, referring to anti-Mursi protesters. “There needs to be a constitution for there to be stability.”
Pro-Mursi protests were also staged in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and the central Egyptian province of Assiut.
The Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters have branded the opposition as enemies of the revolution that toppled longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak last year.
Across the Nile, hundreds of protesters camping out in Tahrir Square since Mursi issued a decree expanding his powers were expected to be joined by more demonstrators throughout the day.
The National Rescue Front – a coalition of opponents led by dissident former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei, ex-Arab League chief Amr Mussa and former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi – has called on the decree’s opponents to keep up the pressure.
It has called on Egyptians to “reject the illegitimate” decree and the “void” draft constitution, and stressed the public’s right “to use any peaceful method to protest including a general strike and civil disobedience”.
The crisis was sparked when Mursi issued the decree on November 22 giving himself sweeping powers and placing his decisions beyond judicial review, provoking mass protests and a judges’ strike.
His decree prevented the top legal body the Supreme Constitutional Court from potentially dissolving of the Islamist-run constituent assembly, in a ruling it was to make on Sunday on the body’s legality.
“Rushing through a draft while serious concerns about key rights protections remain unaddressed will create huge problems,” said Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch.
Amnesty International said the draft “raises concerns about Egypt’s commitment to human rights treaties,” specifically ignoring “the rights of women (and) restricting freedom of expression in the name of religion”.
In an interview broadcast on Thursday night, Mursi stressed again his new powers would expire once the constitution was ratified, a point which Islamist supporters have repeatedly made in favour of his decree last week.
The Brotherhood and the secular-leaning opposition had stood side by side in Tahrir Square last year as they fought to bring down Mubarak and his regime.
But since Mubarak’s downfall in February last year, the Islamist movement has been accused of monopolising power after dominating parliament – following vows not field candidates for a majority of the seats – and backtracking on a promise not to nominate a presidential candidate.