Protests tar­get pres­i­dent’s palace

New draft of con­sti­tu­tion sparks even more out­rage.

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By David D. Kirk­patrick

CAIRO — Egyp­tian riot po­lice fired tear gas Tues­day night at tens of thou­sands of demon­stra­tors who were con­verg­ing on the pres­i­den­tial palace in Cairo to protest the coun­try’s new draft con­sti­tu­tion, which was rushed to com­ple­tion last week by an as­sem­bly dom­i­nated by Is­lamists.

Af­ter fir­ing one round of gas can­is­ters, po­lice quickly re­treated in­side the walls of the palace grounds, ap­par­ently to avoid fur­ther clashes.

The huge scale of the protests Tues­day dealt a blow to the le­git­i­macy of the new char­ter, which goes be­fore the coun­try’s vot­ers in a ref­er­en­dum sched­uled for Dec. 15.

The sec­u­lar and an­tiIs­lamist groups that or­ga­nized the protests say that the draft con­sti­tu­tion al­lows re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties too much in­flu­ence over the Egyp­tian state and have even likened it to the blue­prints drawn up for Iran by Ay­a­tol­lah Khome­ini be­fore the 1979 rev­o­lu­tion there.

Protest or­ga­niz­ers are still de­bat­ing whether to urge Egyp­tians to vote against the con­sti­tu­tion or to boy­cott the ref­er­en­dum en­tirely. Ei­ther way, many have their eyes on elec­tions for a new par­lia­ment that would be held two months af­ter the con­sti­tu­tion is ap­proved. They hope to cap­i­tal­ize on a pub­lic back­lash against the heavy-handed tac­tics em­ployed in the con­sti­tu­tion-draft­ing process by Pres­i­dent Mo­hammed Morsi and his Is­lamist al­lies to gain seats in the new par­lia­ment and di­min­ish the Is­lamists’ po­lit­i­cal power.

The first par­lia­ment elected af­ter the over­throw of the strong­man Hosni Mubarak was dom­i­nated by Is­lamists, but that body was dis­solved by the courts, and Morsi has been gov­ern­ing by de­cree since then.

The coun­try’s pri­vate me­dia out­lets mounted a protest of their own against the draft con­sti­tu­tion’s lim­its on free­dom of ex­pres­sion. Eleven news­pa­pers withheld publi­ca­tion Tues­day, and at least three pri­vate tele­vi­sion net­works said they would not broad­cast to­day.

“You are read­ing this mes­sage be­cause Egypt In­de­pen­dent ob­jects to con­tin­ued re­stric­tions on me­dia lib­er­ties, es­pe­cially af­ter hun­dreds of Egyp­tians gave their lives for free­dom and dig­nity,” de­clared a short state­ment set against a black back­ground on the web­site of Egypt In­de­pen­dent, the English-lan­guage sis­ter publi­ca­tion of the coun­try’s largest in­de­pen­dent daily, Al Masry Al Youm, on Tues­day morn­ing. By the af­ter­noon, the web­site was back to nor­mal.

MAYA ALLERUZZO / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Fire­works burst over Tahrir Square as thou­sands gath­ered Tues­day in some­times vi­o­lent protests against Pres­i­dent Mo­hammed Morsi in Cairo.

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