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Egypt braces for rival protests

The demonstrations in Cairo come over a bitterly divisive referendum on a new constitution.

Soldiers stand guard on top a tank in front of the presidential palace in Cairo.
Soldiers stand guard on top a tank in front of the presidential palace in Cairo.
Image: (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

EGYPT IS BRACING for rival protests in Cairo today over a bitterly divisive referendum on a new constitution, prompting President Mohamed Morsi to order the army to help “preserve security”.

The duelling demonstrations, organised by Islamists backing Morsi and the largely secular opposition, raised fears of street clashes like ones last week in which seven people were killed and hundreds injured.

Morsi’s decree instructs the military to fully cooperate with police “to preserve security and protect vital state institutions for a temporary period, up to the announcement of the results from the referendum.”

The military, which has urged dialogue and warned it “will not allow” the political crisis to deteriorate, has for several days kept tanks and troops deployed around Morsi’s presidential palace.

Protesters chant slogans during a demonstration in front of the presidential palace in Cairo on Sunday. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Late last night, soldiers watched without intervening as more than 100 anti-Morsi demonstrators milled around in front of the palace.

The rights group Amnesty International called Morsi’s security decree “a dangerous loophole which may well lead to the military trial of civilians.”

The group said the measure recalled the 16 months of army rule that followed the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak last year, until Morsi’s election in June 2012.

The opposition, made up of secular, liberal, leftwing and Christian groups, has said it will escalate protests to scupper the referendum.

It views the new constitution largely drawn up by Morsi’s Islamist allies, including some who want Sharia law, as undermining secular traditions, human and gender rights, and the independence of the judiciary.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said Monday that the draft charter “contains no reference to human rights treaties and conventions ratified by Egypt, reflecting … disdain for these agreements.”

Morsi has defiantly pushed on with the draft, seeing it as necessary to secure democratic reform in the wake of Mubarak’s 30-year autocratic rule.

The main opposition group, the National Salvation Front, has called for huge protests in Cairo to reject the constitutional referendum, which is scheduled for Saturday.

The Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, said Islamist movements would counter the protests with their own big rallies in the capital in support of the referendum.

Morsi’s camp argues it is up to the people to accept or reject the draft constitution.

The United States called for peaceful protests and restraint by those charged with maintaining security.

- © AFP, 2012

Read: Egypt: Opposition mulls next step after Morsi gives up expanded powers

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