Islamists, opponents clash ahead of vote on draft constitution
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.