Masked gunmen attacked opposition protesters camped out at Cairo’s Tahrir Square early yesterday, firing birdshot at them and wounding nine people, security officials said.
The attack stoked tensions just hours ahead of rival mass rallies in the Egyptian capital by supporters and opponents of the country’s Islamist president over a disputed draft constitution. The charter has vastly polarized the nation and triggered some of the worst violence since Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi took office in June as the nation’s first freely elected president.
It was unclear who was behind the pre-dawn attack on the protesters who have been staging a sit-in at Tahrir for nearly three weeks, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
The protesters belong to the liberal opposition, which claims the draft of the charter restricts freedoms and gives Islamists vast influence over the running of the country. The draft, adopted late last month by Morsi’s Islamist allies, is going to be put to a nationwide referendum on Saturday.
The dispute prompted hundreds of thousands of the president’s opponents to take to the streets in massive rallies. Morsi’s supporters responded with huge demonstrations of their own, which led to clashes in the streets that left at least six people dead and hundreds wounded.
There have been at least two dozen attacks on offices of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, according to the group’s leaders, while senior opposition figures, including former lawmakers, have been badly beaten by pro-Morsi Islamists.
Also in Cairo, several hundred Islamists were camped out yesterday outside a media complex on the western outskirts of the city that is home to several independent television networks critical of Morsi and the Brotherhood. The Islamists have threatened to storm the complex.
Reflecting the divisions within the opposition, no decision has yet been made on whether to campaign for a “no” vote or call for a boycott of the referendum.