CAIRO, Dec 5, 2012 (AFP)
CAIRO, Dec 5, 2012 (AFP)
Supporters of Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Morsi tore down tents and forced opposition protesters to flee the presidential palace on Wednesday, as his deputy said a vote on a disputed constitution would go ahead in 10 days.
Skirmishes broke out after thousands of Islamists rallying to the call of the Muslim Brotherhood bore down on the presidential palace, chanting that they would “cleanse” the area of the opposition demonstrators.
The two sides threw stones at each other before the secular-leaning protesters, who had besieged the palace in their tens of thousands on Tuesday, escaped into side streets, an AFP photographer said.
Opponents of Morsi reject a November 22 presidential decree granting him sweeping new powers, and a draft constitution rushed through by an Islamist-dominated panel which will go to a referendum on December 15.
But as the clashes took place outside, Vice President Mahmud Mekki told reporters at the Itihadiya palace that the vote “will go ahead on time”.
The opposition, he said, would be allowed to put any objections they have to articles of the constitution in writing, to be discussed by a parliament yet to be elected.
“This is not a formal initiative but a personal idea,” Mekki said, insisting on the need for dialogue and consensus.
“There is a real political will to respond to the demands of the opposition,” he told journalists.
Tens of thousands of opposition protesters had encircled the palace on Tuesday demanding that Morsi go, opposing the charter and with some calling for a boycott of the referendum.
Islamist rallies converged outside the palace, where hundreds of anti-Morsi protesters had spent the night, forcing the opposition to leave the area.
“They (Islamists) attacked us, broke up our tents, and I was beaten up,” said Eman Ahmed, 47. “They accused us of being traitors.”
Morsi supporters painted over graffiti sprayed onto the palace walls by Tuesday’s protesters.
“These are the worst words I’ve ever seen. It is not good to express opinions with curses and insults to the elected president,” said 50-year-old Mohamed Abdel Moneim.
Protesters from the male-dominated Islamist marches harassed television news crews, trying to prevent them from working, an AFP correspondent said.
“I’m here to defend democracy. The president was elected by the ballot box. The opposition protesters ran away as they can’t face our strength,” said Wael Ali, a 40-year-old Morsi supporter with a long beard.
As the country faces its most divisive crisis since Morsi took power in June, the United States called for an open and “democratic dialogue”.
“The upheaval we are seeing… indicates that dialogue is urgently needed. It needs to be two-way,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told journalists in the Belgian capital.
“Not one side talking at another side, but actual respectful exchanges of views and concerns among Egyptians themselves about the constitutional process and the substance of the constitution,” she added.
On Tuesday, the protesters demanded Morsi’s ouster in scenes not witnessed even during demonstrations that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
Morsi returned to work in the presidential palace on Wednesday morning, his aide told AFP. He had left “on schedule” after his meetings on Tuesday and went back to his house in a Cairo suburb, the interior ministry had said.
In the last days of the 2011 revolution, tens of thousands had tried to reach the Itihadiya palace but were prevented from getting close by military police.
Morsi insists the measures are aimed at cutting short a tumultuous transition but opponents have accused him of choosing an autocratic path.
The National Rescue Front, led by high profile dissidents including former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei, ex-Arab League chief Amr Mussa and former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, called on Morsi to cancel the decree, state media said.
They also urged the scrapping of the referendum and the formation of a new panel to draft a constitution that better reflects society.