by Samer Al-Atrush
by Samer Al-Atrush
CAIRO, Dec 14, 2012 (AFP)
Stone-throwing clashes broke out between Islamists and opposition protesters in the Egyptian city of Alexandria on Friday on the eve of a highly charged referendum on a new constitution, witnesses said.
There was no immediate word on any casualties but witnesses told AFP street violence was continuing in Egypt’s second-biggest city despite police efforts to restore order.
Tensions have been running high over the referendum, which is being held over two successive Saturdays, after weeks of protests and violence between the rival camps in Cairo that killed eight people and injured hundreds last week.
Both sides were holding further rallies in Cairo on Friday.
A pro-constitution demonstration organised by the Muslim Brotherhood backing President Mohamed Morsi gathered more than 2,000 people.
Egypt’s mainly secular opposition has slammed the draft charter as divisive and a possible attempt by Islamists to introduce Islamic law.
“Insistence on referendum in an explosive, polarized, chaotic & lawless environment is leading country to the brink,” opposition National Salvation Front leader Mohamed ElBaradei said on his Twitter feed.
The Front has said it could yet call a boycott if its “deep concern” over the referendum’s fairness turns out to be founded.
Mursi has ordered Egypt’s military to help police maintain security until the results of the plebiscite are known. A total of 130,000 police and 120,000 soldiers will be deployed, interior ministry and military officials told AFP.
Polling in the referendum is being spread over two Saturdays because of a shortage of judges willing to provide the statutory supervision for the vote.
Voting will begin on Saturday in Cairo and Alexandria and in eight other provinces. A week later the other half of the country will vote.
Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood and ultra-orthodox Salafist groups backing the draft charter have been campaigning for days for Egypt’s 51 million voters to approve it.
The opposition — which initially wanted the referendum postponed — only started urging a “no” vote on Thursday.
“It’s you who will pay the price if you vote ‘yes.’ ‘No’ to the constitution,” said an online campaign advertisement by an opposition group called April 6.
International watchdogs, including the UN human rights chief, as well as the United States and the European Union, have expressed reservations about the draft constitution because of loopholes that could be used to weaken human rights, the rights of women and the independence of judges.
Analysts said the proven ability of the Muslim Brotherhood to get its voters out meant it was likely — but not certain — the draft constitution would pass.
If it is adopted, “it will exacerbate political tension and result in more acrimony,” Hani Sabra, an Egypt specialist for the Eurasia Group, said in an evaluation note.
“The Brotherhood and Mursi believe that if the constitution is adopted, it represents a mandate to pursue their policies. However, majority support does not translate into the bureaucracy falling in line. It will also not silence the opposition,” he wrote.
Polls open on Saturday at 8:00 am (0600 GMT) and are scheduled to close at 7:00 pm (1700 GMT).