11 December 2012

Egypt: Pro, Anti-Referendum Groups Protest in Egypt

Photo: Heba Aly/IRIN
Hayam Yousef, a mother of three, waits in line for her turn to vote in Egypt's first elections (file photo).

Tuesday's demonstrations in Cairo came ahead of Saturday's vote on a draft constitution.

Rival groups of demonstrators yesterday December 11, 2012 protested in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, over plans by the government of President Mohammed Mursi to go ahead with a controversial referendum on a draft constitution on Saturday December 15, 2012. Prior to yesterday's protests, President Mursi had issued a decree instructing the military to fully cooperate with the police to preserve security and protect vital State institutions for a temporary period up to the announcement of the results of the referendum.

Egyptian security officials said masked gunmen yesterday attacked opposition protesters camped out at Cairo's Tahrir Square, firing shots at them and wounding nine people. The AP news agency quoted the officials as saying it was unclear who was behind the pre-dawn attack. The AFP news agency said yesterday's protests were organised by Islamists backing Mursi and the largely secular opposition that is against the referendum. Unlike last year, Egypt is not united against the President. Even some of his opponents acknowledge that Mohammed Mursi was democratically elected; and that they just want to change the policies, not the President.

Mursi'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. The liberal opposition says the draft constitution restricts freedoms and gives Islamists vast influence over running the country. The issue has polarised the nation and triggered some of the worst violence since Mursi took office this year. Egypt's new opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, appeared split yesterday on whether to boycott Saturday's referendum or campaign for a no vote, reports said. A final decision on the opposition's approach is expected today Wednesday, December 12, 2012.

Meanwhile, the US announced on Monday December 10, 2012 that it was sending more than 20 F-16 fighter jets to Egypt as part of a One billion-Dollar (about FCFA 505 billion) foreign aid package, Fox News reported. Egypt already has a fleet of more than 200 of the planes and the latest shipment merely fulfills an order placed two years ago.

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