Islamists rallied yesterday in support of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s new expanded powers and the drafting of a contested charter, in a clear show of Egypt’s deepening polarization.
The demonstration in the heart of Cairo comes a day after tens of thousands of Morsi opponents converged on Tahrir Square in the city to protest against the president’s decree and the speedy adoption of the draft constitution.
The charter has taken center stage in the country’s worst political crisis since Morsi’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 Morsi at 4pm the final draft of the constitution adopted after a marathon overnight session on Thursday that was boycotted by liberals, seculars and Christians.
By mid-morning, hundreds of pro-Morsi demonstrators, including from the Muslim Brotherhood, on whose ticket Morsi ran for office, and other hardline Salafist groups gathered at Cairo University, with riot police on standby and roadblocks in place.
“The Muslim Brotherhood supports President Morsi’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, with banners reading “Together [with Morsi] to save the revolution.”
“There are people who want instability,” said demonstrator Khaled, referring to anti-Morsi protesters. “There needs to be a constitution for there to be stability.”
The Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters have branded the opposition as enemies of the revolution that toppled former longtime Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak last year.
Across the Nile river, hundreds of protesters camping out in Tahrir Square since Morsi 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 head Mohamed ElBaradei, ex-Arab League head 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 Morsi issued the decree on Nov. 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 the Islamist-run constituent assembly, in a ruling it was to make today 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, Morsi stressed again that his new powers would expire once the constitution was ratified, a point which Islamist supporters have repeatedly made in favor of his decree last week.