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Egypt draft constitution sparks mass protest
CAIRO (AP) — More than 100,000 protesters took to the streets in Egypt vowing to stop a draft constitution that Islamist allies of President Mohammed Morsi approved early Friday in a rushed, all-night session without the participation of liberals and Christians.
Anger at Morsi even spilled over into a mosque where the Islamist president joined weekly Friday prayers. In his sermon, the mosque’s preacher compared Morsi to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, saying the prophet had enjoyed vast powers as leader, giving a precedent for the same to happen now.
“No to tyranny!” congregants chanted, interrupting the cleric. Morsi took to the podium and told the worshippers that he too objected to the language of the sheik and that one-man rule contradicts Islam.
Crowds of protesters marched from several locations in Cairo, converging in central Tahrir Square for the opposition’s second mass rally in a week against Morsi. They chanted, “Constitution: Void!” and “The people want to bring down the regime.”
Senior opposition leader Hamdeen Sabbahi took the stage before the crowd and vowed protests would go on until “we topple the constitution.”
“The revolution is back … We shall be victorious,” said Sabbahi, a liberal politician who came in a surprisingly close third in last summer’s presidential election. “We are united against the oppressive regime.”
The protests were sparked by the president’s decrees a week ago granting himself sweeping powers and neutralizing the judiciary, the last check on his authority. The edicts tapped into a feeling among many Egyptians that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, from which he hails, are using their election victories to monopolize power and set up a new one-party state, nearly two years after the fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
But the sudden adoption of a draft constitution by the Islamist-dominated assembly tasked with producing the document throws the confrontation into a new phase.
The opposition must now decide how to deal with a nationwide referendum on the document, likely to come in mid-December: Boycott the vote to protest what critics call a deeply flawed charter or try to use anger at Morsi rally the public to reject it in the referendum.
Morsi says his new powers are in effect until the referendum passes. He is expected on Saturday to announce a date for the vote.
Egypt has already been thrown by Morsi’s edicts into its most polarizing and volatile crisis since Mubarak’s ouster. The past week, clashes between Morsi’s supporters and opponents left two dead and hundreds wounded and raised fears of further chaos. The Brotherhood and other Islamists plan their own massive rally backing Morsi on Saturday.
The draft constitution has an Islamist bent. It strengthens provisions that set Islamic law as the basis of legislation, gives clerics a still undefined role in ensuring laws meet Shariah and commits the state to enforce morals and “the traditional family” in broad language that rights activists fear could be used to severely limit many civil liberties.
At the same time, it installs new protections for Egyptians against some abuses of the Mubarak era, such as stronger bans on torture and arbitrary arrest. It weakens somewhat what had been the near total powers of the presidency, giving parliament greater authorities.
Almost all liberal and secular members of the assembly had quit in the past weeks to protest what they called Islamists’ hijacking of the drafting process.
As a result, 85 members — almost all Islamists, with no Christians — participated in the session that began Thursday. The voting, which had not been expected for another two months, was hastily moved up to approve the draft before the Supreme Constitutional Court rules on Sunday on whether to dissolve the controversial assembly.
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