- - Sunday, December 9, 2012

CAIRO — Egypt is bracing for more political tension this week, as supporters and opponents of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi plan for massive demonstrations Tuesday and a weekend deadline looms for a vote on a draft constitution that has split the country into hostile camps.

“We do not recognize the draft constitution because it does not represent the Egyptian people,” Sameh Ashour, a spokesman for the opposition National Salvation Front, said Sunday.

The referendum “will certainly lead to more division and sedition,” he added, reading a statement from the opposition.

Later Sunday, the Alliance of Islamist Forces announced a campaign to support the constitution and called for demonstrations on the same day as the opposition.

Egypt is in the grip of the worst and deadliest political violence since the overthrow of autocratic President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

Egyptian protesters push soldiers guarding the presidential palace in Cairo on Sunday. ... more >

Thousands of supporters and opponents of Mr. Morsi have clashed in the streets of Cairo and other cities since the president on Nov. 22 gave himself sweeping powers that put him above the country’s judiciary.

The protests deepened after a constitutional committee composed of Mr. Morsi’s Islamist supporters passed the charter, which is set for a referendum Saturday.

He canceled the presidential decrees over the weekend, prompting smaller anti-Morsi demonstrations Sunday. The opposition is now targeting the Saturday referendum on the draft constitution.

The opposition says the measure would restrict civil rights and negate the goals of the revolt that overthrew Mubarak.

“The timing and the way this constitution was [created] makes one doubt his intentions,” said Mohammed Abdel-Hameed, a 28-year-old opposition member. “I read the controversial articles thoroughly. Those articles shouldn’t be in the postrevolution constitution.

“If Morsi continued to be that stubborn, and if he can’t end this crisis, he will eventually be toppled and the army will rule us again,” he said.

The Egyptian military spoke up Saturday for the first time since the protests erupted.

“Anything other than dialogue [between both sides] will force us into a dark tunnel with disastrous consequences, something which we won’t allow,” the military said in a statement.

On Sunday, Mr. Morsi ordered the military to maintain security and protect state institutions until after the referendum. He also authorized soldiers to arrest civilians if they interfere with the voting.

Fighting on Cairo’s streets last week was some of the worst since Mubarak was ousted.

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