Multiple protests are taking place in Cairo and across Egypt Tuesday, both by Islamist supporters of President Mohamed Morsi and by the opposition National Salvation Front.
Crowds of opposition protesters began converging on the presidential palace by late afternoon Tuesday, as marchers poured in from several parts of the capital. Three walls of large cement blocks prevented the crowd from getting close to the building.
Islamist supporters of the president mobilized in front of several Cairo mosques, chanting slogans in favor of the new constitution. Islamist demonstrations were also reported in Alexandria, Assiout and Suez.
Overnight, a handful of opposition protesters camped in Cairo’s Tahrir Square were hurt after being attacked by masked men. Witnesses said the attackers used pellet guns and threw at least one fire bomb.
Mohamed ElBaradei, who heads the opposition National Salvation Front, said his group was still debating whether to boycott Saturday’s scheduled referendum on the controversial new constitution or ask supporters to vote no. Islamists are urging Egyptians to vote “yes.”
Referendum as civic duty
In a press conference at Cairo’s Islamic al Azhar University, Sheikh Ahmed Olayil said it is the civic duty of all Egyptians to turn out for the referendum, no matter how they vote.
He said going to vote is a national obligation, and it doesn’t matter if people vote “yes” or if they vote “no.” He said that the 2011 uprising against the government was based on the principle of “destroying’ corruption in the old regime,” while the objective now is to build new government institutions.
But Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, in a separate press conference, said the crisis in Egypt is economic and that political differences need to be solved to attack that problem.
Qandil said a national dialogue will be held next week to discuss controversial proposed tax hikes and to determine how to move ahead in solving the economic crisis. He said the ongoing political instability is preventing a solution to the economic crisis.
Meanwhile, President Mohamed Morsi met with a stream of supporters and opponents at the presidential palace, including the head of the opposition Wafd party, Sayyed Badawi.
A clash of generational forces
Analyst James Denselow of Kings’ College London said the current conflict is the product of a clash between three separate and distinct forces in Egyptian society.
“You have three dynamic elements clashing which each other,” he said. They involve “the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempt to consolidate its rule through Morsi’s constitutional referendum; the traditional Mubarak era structures of power – the military and the security services – attempting to define their role in the post-Mubarak era; and the post-Arab Spring, Tahrir Square generation, who are unwilling to sit quietly by while dramatic and drastic changes occur….”
Egypt’s judiciary also appears to be divided.
One group of judges said recently that it would not supervise the December 15 referendum, while another told journalists Tuesday that it would oversee the vote.