Tens of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in Cairo on Tuesday to build support for and against the anticipated referendum on constitution.
Report by Ahram Online
Tens of thousands of Morsi supporters gathered peacefully at Nasr City’s Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque on Tuesday evening, three miles away from Cairo’s presidential palace, to “support the legitimacy of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi,” and to voice their intentions to vote for the draft constitution in Saturday’s referendum.
The participants, who came from all across the nation and from all walks of life, staged the massive rally amid the opposition’s criticisms of Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood, and fierce opposition to the proposed national charter on the grounds that it is “unrepresentative” and “illegitimate.”
The pro-Morsi demonstrators had blocked a nearby road by 5pm, chanting “Islam is returning” “Yes to the constitution” and “Morsi is the elected president.” Placards emblazoned with Morsi’s picture and slogans supporting the constitution were on display among the crowd.
A podium had been set up in front of the mosque, and a number of Muslim clerics took turns to deliver heartening speeches before the participants, who occasionally replied with “God is great” or by reciting slogans in support of Islamic sharia law, which they believe will be properly implemented under the yet-to-be passed constitution.
“We are supporting the Islamic project,” Mohamed Ramadan, a middle-aged cement trader from Daqahlia Governorate, north-east of Cairo, told Ahram Online.
“In order to do so we need to pass the new constitution, which I think everybody is supporting, apart from the remnants of the Mubarak regime. I can confidently say this is the best constitution in the whole world.”
Hazem Eid, a beardless 29-year-old assistant professor of medicine, stressed another point, arguing that it was not acceptable to deny the democratic right of citizens to cast their ballots in the constitutional referendum, in reference to opposition figures and parties that have been calling for the postponement of voting until national consensus is reached.
Spearheading opposition to Morsi and the upcoming poll is the National Salvation Front, led by prominent liberal figure Mohamed ElBaradei and former presidential candidates Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabbahi. The group refrained from participating along with the opposition in the” national dialogue” called for by Morsi on Saturday in an attempt to reach an agreement.
Demonstrator Mohamed El-Shofi, who is from Morsi’s hometown Zagazig, opined that “the idea of having a national consensus is imaginary.”
“There are 90 million Egyptians and it is just impossible that all the people will unanimously agree on one thing. Even sheikhs do not agree on the holy Quran and sometimes come up with different interpretations,” he added.
Another participant, a 20-year-old medicine student, commented: “Dialogue is important in order to put an end to the ongoing political turmoil, but the opposition cannot force their views.”
There were initial fears about possible violence between the pro-Morsi demonstrators and opposition rallies taking place at the same time a few miles away. Last Wednesday, clashes erupted after Morsi supporters arrived at the presidential palace where an opposition sit-in and protest was taking place. Both sides have been swapping accusations of responsibility for the violence, and claiming that the seven people who were killed were from their respective camps.
Ramadan echoed the sentiments of the Brotherhood’s supporters that the victims were Islamists, saying: “The allegations that the Brotherhood have militias at its disposal are baseless and absurd. All the victims were from the group, so how come they carry weapons and get killed at the end of the day? That doesn’t make sense at all.”
Commenting on the same issues, Mohamed El-Shofi blamed the media.
“Look at the owners of the private satellite channel; for example, Al-Hayat TV is owned by Sayed El-Badawy, the head of the Wafd Party [renowned for being close to the now-deposed Mubarak regime], Al-Nahar TV [owned by Mohamed Al-Amin who is said to have been a member of the former ruling National Democratic Party], or Naguib Sawiris the [Coptic] owner of ONTV.”
“They are all against Islamists and thus their programmes are not impartial…only Al Jazeera is unbiased. It has been like this since the 2011 revolution.”
After Wednesday’s bloody confrontations, a number of videos circulating on the internet showed civilians being tied up, physically abused and interrogated by bearded men in the vicinity of the presidential palace. One of the victims was a former Egyptian diplomat, Yehia Negm, who alleged during an interview with Al-Hayat TV channel that Brotherhood members tortured him for several hours.
Diverse crowds rally to oppose constitution vote
On Tuesday evening, three miles away from Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo’s Nasr City where supporters of the president had gathered, tens of thousands of anti-Morsi demonstrators were rallying at the presidential palace to protest Saturday’s constitutional referendum.
Thousands filtered through openings that had been made by protesters in barriers erected by the military around the palace on Monday.
Chants of “Down with the Muslim Brotherhood” “Down with the rule of the Supreme Guide” and “Two cannot be trusted; the army and the Brotherhood,” echoed at the scene.
The national anthem was also sung intermittently, with applause breaking out at its conclusion.
“Hopefully there will not be a referendum, but if there is I will say no,” an engineer in her late forties who declined to be named told Ahram Online.
Opposition groups have argued that the constitutional poll should be delayed until greater national consensus is reached, describing the current draft as “unrepresentative”, drafted by an Islamist-led Constituent Assembly that saw walk-outs by church representatives, liberals, leftists and others.
At one point, around ten Islamic clerics from Al-Azhar University arrived at the palace protest in a march formation, receiving a hero’s welcome from protesters who saw their arrival as a sign of solidarity.
Many presidential supporters argue that the opposition is “secular”, or “feloul” [made up of remnants of the Mubarak regime] or against Islam.
“This is a constitution for the Muslim Brotherhood; it is made to empower them, ” Mohamed El-Aswany, an Al-Azhar cleric told Ahram Online as he arrived at the presidential palace with his colleagues dressed in their religious garments.
Regarding members of Al-Azhar who have been in support of the president’s decisions, El-Aswany asserted that they did not represent the “moderate” institution, but rather belonged to Salafist circles within Al-Azhar.
El-Aswany added that, if the referendum takes place, he and his colleagues will vote against the constitution.
Egyptians from all social classes were present at the demonstration, and some well-known revolutionary slogans were heard, including “Bread, freedom, social justice” and “The people demand the overthrow of the regime.”
The revolutionary atmosphere has touched the previously apolitical, upmarket district of Heliopolis, with marches roaming around popular shopping destination Korba Street.
At one of the security checkpoints located in vicinity of the palace, Ahram Online spoke to a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who instead of heading to the pro-Morsi demonstration had come instead to the opposition protest.
“This is a constitution based on business deals, not the good of the people,” said the member, who declined to reveal his name.
The 26-year-old activist said he had been a member of the Brotherhood for over 15 years; however, following what he described as the “Wednesday massacre” he chose to join the line of the opposition.
Groups of Morsi supporters clashed with opponents last Wednesday leaving at least 9 dead and hundreds injured, with each side blaming the other for the violence.
“Here [at the presidential palace] they are all Egyptians; the protest is not dominated by one sector,” added the Brotherhood member, who described the pro-Morsi protests as “unrepresentative of the Muslim Brotherhood established by Hassan El-Banna.”
The Brotherhood member expects the no vote to be effective only if no vote-rigging takes place.
“If the constitution passes, we will see an oppressive constitution being implemented. Morsi will do whatever pleases him by the orders of the Brotherhood,” he said.
The protests come in the wake of an anticipated decision by the government to raise prices through imposing higher taxes on several goods, and several chants condemned the decision.
“If you’re looking for oil, go to Morsi’s door,” chanted the crowds.
Also protesting to voice their discontent with the constitution were Egyptian workers.
“The whole labour movement is unhappy with the constitution,” claimed Mohamed Abdel-Mordi, member of the independent Conference of Egypt’s Workers.
Abdel-Mordi expressed his frustration with the “law to protect the revolution”, a law recently passed by President Morsi, perceiving it as a threat to workers.
“This law bans workers from striking, which is their legitimate right,” he told Ahram Online.
During the protest the news that the general assembly of the Judges Club had voted to boycott the referendum was met with cheers, with many in the crowd questioning whether the vote can go ahead at all with no judges to monitor the polling stations.