Published — Thursday 20 December 2012
Last update 19 December 2012 10:58 pm
CAIRO: Egyptian conservative groups are planning a mass protest in Alexandria on Friday — a move that will increase tensions a day before the final stage of a referendum on a new constitution.
The rally announced by the Muslim Brotherhood responds to a violent confrontation between conservatives and their liberal and secular opponents in Egypt’s second city last week.
The runup to the referendum on the Brotherhood-backed constitution, billed as a major impetus for Egypt’s democratic transition, has been marked by violent protests in which at least eight people have died.
The first day of voting last weekend resulted in a 57 percent vote in favor of the draft basic law, according to official media. The final stage on Saturday is expected to endorse that result as it covers parts of Egypt, particularly rural areas, even more sympathetic to the Brotherhood cause.
Last week’s clashes in Alexandria involved protesters armed with clubs, knives and swords.
“What happened last Friday reveals the ugly face of secularism,” said a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood. Opponents of Mursi staged protests in Cairo on Tuesday evening but numbers were down on previous demonstrations.
Several hundred protesters outside the presidential palace chanted “Revolution, revolution, for the sake of the constitution” and called on Mursi to “Leave, leave, you coward!.”
A protester at the presidential palace, Ahmed Mahmoud, 24, said: “We are here to remind Mursi that we will not give up our revolution and won’t leave until he leaves.”
Shortly after midnight, a few hundred protesters who had planned to spend the night in tents set up around the palace were attacked with stones.
“Unknown people threw stones at us from behind the walls the army had built at all entrances to the palace, and some of the protesters were injured in the leg and head,” protester Karim El-Shaer told Reuters.
If the constitution is passed, national elections can take place early next year, something many hope will help end the turmoil that has gripped the Arab world’s most populous nation since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak almost two years ago.
But the closeness of the first day of voting and the low turnout suggest more difficulties ahead for Mursi as he seeks to rally support for difficult economic reforms needed to bring down the budget deficit, such as raising taxes and cutting fuel subsidies.