Rival constitution demonstrations start across Egypt

Osman El Sharnoubi, Bel Trew, Randa Ali, Sherif Tarek , Tuesday 11 Dec 2012

Tens of thousands rally for and against controversial constitutional referendum across Egypt's cities; Morsi Supporters defend 'legitimacy' while anti-Morsi protesters attempt to

Opposition demonstration at presidential palace (L) and supporters of President Mohamed Morsi demonstration (R) (Photos: Reuters and Ahram)

Several thousand supporters of President Mohamed Morsi and the draft constitution gathered in front of Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo's Nasr City early on Tuesday evening, around three miles away from the presidential palace, a rallying point for anti-Morsi protesters.

Opposition forces, led by the National Salvation Front coalition group, had called for mass protests on Tuesday against the draft constitution, which will be voted on in a nationwide referendum on Saturday 15 December. Opponents argue that the national charter is "illegitimate," having been drafted by an "unrepresentative" Constituent Assembly from which dozens of members withdrew.

The general assembly of the Judges Club has also declared on Tuesday evening it will not be supervising the referendum, deeming it null and void.

Supporters of President Morsi called for rival protests to take place on the same day, Tuesday, in support of the draft constitution and the president's decision to hold the national referendum.

At the pro-Morsi rally, the thousands cheering for the constitution blocked off one of the two roads near Nasr Road where Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque is located.

Mohamed Khaled, a 19-year-old pharmacy student at Helwan University, told Ahram Online reporters at the scene that the purpose of the rally was to show that President Morsi is also backed by the public.

"We want to prove that there are a lot of people that are supporting legitimacy, that not only the opposition represents the public," he said.

Khaled added that he would definitely vote in favour of the draft constitution "because this is going to be the first and most essential step towards stability and the building of the state."

"I do have some reservations on the constitution, but they are all minor ones which I believe can be later amended through the People's Assembly [the lower house of the parliament] when it is elected," he said.

Hazem Eid, a 29-year-old assistant professor of medicine, also told Ahram Online that he was at the demonstration to "support legitimacy."

"The opposition cannot push their views by force; decisions must be instituted by the state," he said, adding that he refused to say what his vote would be but believes that "no one has the right to deny people the right to vote."

Opposition rallies head to presidential palace

At the same time, two opposition marches set out from Al-Nour mosque in Abbasiya and from Matariya Square, both located near Heliopolis.

The crowd of thousands started moving from in front of Al-Nour mosque waving Egypt's flags and April 6 (Democratic Front) flags.

"They killed our brothers at the presidential palace," and "Leave, leave like Mubarak did," demonstrators chanted. Some cars driving past the march beeped their horns in support.

Manal, a housewife at the demonstration, explained to Ahram Online's Randa Ali it was only her second time to join a protest.

"I reject this constitution because it does not meet the demands of Egyptians; it only fulfils the demands of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood are lying to the people. They make them think we [the opposition] are only a minority...they are doing that through their own media forums," she said.

"They have transformed a certain segment of Egyptians into followers instead of people who make their own decisions," Manal added.

"The referendum date gives no one a chance to fully understand what is missing from the constitution. I'm voting no but all signals - legitimate or not - indicate that yes will win. I'm not optimistic."

Earlier in the day, tens of anti-Morsi protesters were at the palace ahead of the arrival of the expected marches, reported Ahram Online's Bel Trew at the presidential palace.

The Republican Guard have stationed six tanks in formation along the cement walls the soldiers have erected since Sunday to keep anti-Morsi demonstrators away from the palace.

Protesters on Tuesday afternoon, using makeshift equipment, managed to drive holes through the concrete barricades and overwhelmed the soldiers in order to enter the area in front of the palace's main gates.

Around 15 ambulances were stationed outside the palace. Paramedics at the scene say they are there as a precaution because of the nearby pro-Morsi rival rallies, after Wednesday's bloody scenes when clashes between Morsi supporters and opponents left nine dead and hundreds injured.

The banners at the palace read "Game over Morsi" and "Morsi hold back your thugs," as well as "The people demand the end of the regime."

"We made a contraction to get the metal barrier down, which the soldiers were standing behind. There was at least 100 of us, in this small space, so what can they do?" explained Mohamed Abdel-Rahman, an electrician from Ain Shams at the scene, who revealed a 10cm scar behind his ear, where he said he had been stabbed by a pro-Morsi supporter during the bloody clashes on Wednesday.

"It looked like they [the Republican Guard] just gave up and let us past. We are expecting violence today, but nothing can be worse than Wednesday. The pro-Morsi supporters are gathering close by in Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque but I heard their plans were to march on Media City [on the outskirts of Cairo in 6 October City] not come here," he said.

By 8pm the numbers around the presidential palace swelled to tens of thousands.

In the coastal city of Alexandria, two mass rival protests have already started. In Upper Egypt's Assiut city, two rival rallies are also taking place.

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