Protests and Polarization in Egypt Ahead of Referendum

Published on
by
Common Dreams

Protests and Polarization in Egypt Ahead of Referendum

Opposition debates tactics as Morsi prepares for controversial vote

by
Lauren McCauley, staff writer

A man walks past an army tank from the republican guard in front of the presidential palace in Cairo December 10, 2012. (Photo: Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters)

Early violence against opposition groups marked the day as Egyptians on both sides of the referendum controversy overtook the streets of Cairo Tuesday.

Tensions ran high after more than a dozen people were injured by masked gunmen who fired bird shot pellets and threw petrol bombs at protestors camping in Tahrir Square.

"The masked men came suddenly and attacked the protesters in Tahrir. The attack was meant to deter us and prevent us from protesting today. We oppose these terror tactics and will stage the biggest protest possible today," said opposition member John Gerges.

Tuesday's rival protests are being staged by opposition leaders who want Morsi's constitutional referendum to be delayed and believe that "sufficiently large numbers of protesters" may "change Morsi's mind," and Islamic Morsi supporters who want the vote to go ahead as planned on December 15, Reuters reports.

Despite a decree signed on Monday by President Morsi officially granting the Egyptian military the power to arrest and detain citizens, Al Jazeera reports that the "elite Republican Guard has yet to use force to keep protesters away from the palace, now ringed with tanks, barbed wire and concrete barricades."

Tuesday, dozens of protesters reportedly pushed down two of those giant concrete blocks which were blocking access to the site.

Meanwhile, thousands of Islamist Morsi supporters assembled at a nearby mosque.

The opposition coalition National Salvation Front (NSF) said it would announce Tuesday whether it would call for a boycott of the referendum or rally the public to vote down the draft charter, which critics charge with infringing on the rights and freedoms of the Egyptian people, the New York Times reports.

If the constitution does pass, NSF member and leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahy said, "Egypt will continue in this really charged state. It is certain that this constitution is driving us to more political polarization."

"The road Mohamed Morsi is taking now does not create the possibility for national consensus," he added.

In preparation for the controversial vote, Morsi amended a law Tuesday to restrict voters from casting ballots outside their electoral districts, as they have in the past.

Also Tuesday, "in light of the unfolding developments on the ground," according to the International Monetary Fund, the Egyptian government has asked to delay a $4.8 billion IMF loan reportedly for another month to allow the government time to explain the heavily criticized austerity package to the Egyptian people, said Egyptian Finance Minister Mumtaz al-Said.

Democracy Now!’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous filed the below report from Cairo.

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