Is­lamists, op­po­nents clash ahead of vote on draft con­sti­tu­tion

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By Mag­gie Michael

CAIRO — Egyp­tian Is­lamists bran­dish­ing swords clashed with op­po­nents of a draft con­sti­tu­tion Fri­day in the Mediter­ranean city of Alexan­dria as ten­sions rose on the eve of a ref­er­en­dum on the sharply dis­puted char­ter that has plunged the coun­try into weeks of tur­moil.

At least 19 peo­ple were re­ported in­jured in the vi­o­lence in Alexan­dria, which broke out af­ter an ul­tra­con­ser­va­tive cleric urged wor­ship­pers to vote “yes” and de­scribed the op­po­si­tion as “fol­low­ers of in­fi­dels.”

The cri­sis pits Egypt’s newly em­pow­ered Is­lamists against the coun­try’s mainly lib­er­als and sup­ported by a large sec­tor of apo­lit­i­cal mod- er­ate Mus­lims. Both sides stepped up their cam­paigns af­ter weeks of vi­o­lence and harsh di­vi­sions that have turned Satur­day’s vote into a fight over Egypt’s post-rev­o­lu­tion­ary iden­tity.

Crit­ics al­ready have raised con­cern over the le­git­i­macy of the doc­u­ment af­ter most judges said they would not su­per­vise the vote as stip­u­lated by law. Rights groups voiced fears of fraud and the op­po­si­tion said a de­ci­sion to stretch the vote two rounds to make up for the short­age of judges left the door open for ini­tial re­sults to sway voter opin­ions.

On Fri­day, thou­sands of Is­lamists filled a square in north­ern Cairo, rais­ing pic­tures of Pres­i­dent Mo­hammed Morsi, who has in­sisted the ref­er­en­dum will be­gin on Satur­day as sched­uled de­spite ac­cu­sa­tions the en­tire process has been rushed. A few miles away, the op­po­si­tion chanted for a “no” vote in a sit-in, ex­pos­ing the deep rifts.

Re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties had is­sued or­ders that mosques should not be used to ma­nip­u­late the vote, but sev­eral cler­ics took to the pul­pit to tell their con­gre­ga­tions that vot­ing in fa­vor of the con­sti­tu­tion is seek­ing vic­tory for Is­lam.

“Vot­ing yes is like ji­had for the sake of God,” Sheik Ab­del-Akher Ha­mad told wor­ship­pers in the south­ern city of As­suit. “It pre­serves Egypt from evils and from those who want to sab­o­tage Is­lam and Mus­lims.”

The cri­sis be­gan when Morsi, who hails from the Mus­lim Brother­hood, is­sued a de­cree

A pro­tester shows his chained hands dur­ing a rally Fri­day against a con­sti­tu­tion drafted by Is­lamist sup­port­ers of Pres­i­dent Mo­hammed Morsi in Cairo. At least 19 peo­ple were in­jured in protests.

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