Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi said he had signed off on a hurriedly drafted constitution and set Dec. 15 for a countrywide referendum on the document.
CAIRO — Activating its powerful clout and organization, the Muslim Brotherhood turned out millions of demonstrators across Egypt on Saturday in support of President Mohammed Morsi.
The demonstrations coincided with Morsi’s announcement that he had signed off on a hurriedly drafted constitution and set Dec. 15 for a countrywide referendum on the document, even though the country’s Constitutional Court might rule Sunday that the Brotherhood-dominated constitutional assembly that wrote the document had been constituted illegally.
“This is the first time in our nation’s history an elected assembly drafts the constitution,” Morsi said. “I am calling for Egyptians to vote for the new constitution.”
How the court will decide, and whether there is any mechanism to enforce its decision if it overturns Morsi’s actions, were unanswered questions, made more critical by the outpouring of support shown in Brotherhood rallies in Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt’s two largest cities, and other locations nationwide. The turnout dwarfed by many multiples the anti-Morsi protests held in recent days.
Most Read Nation & World Stories
- US agency ascertains Biden as winner, lets transition begin
- Biden transition gets govt OK after Trump out of options
- Man leaves $3K tip for a beer as restaurant closes for virus
- Pandemic crowds bring ‘Rivergeddon’ to Montana’s famed fishing streams VIEW
- Inside Bill Gates' high-stakes quest to vaccinate the world against COVID-19
State television used split-screen technology to broadcast scenes from the massive pro-Morsi rallies as it showed the comparatively meager remnants of an anti-Morsi rally held Friday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The technique emphasized the difference in the size of the crowds the Brotherhood could turn out and those generated by the secularists, liberals and Christians who oppose Morsi’s most recent decree, when he seized near-absolute power.
The contrast was undeniable — and not just in numbers. The protests Saturday were filled with bearded Islamists and conservative women, many from poorer neighborhoods. Those who came to Tahrir on Friday clearly represented the nation’s upper class, with unveiled women and clean-shaven men.
Both sides claim to represent the demands of the “revolution,” Egyptian shorthand for the 18 days of protests nearly two years ago that ended when the Egyptian military pushed then President Hosni Mubarak from power and then governed the country itself until Morsi took the oath of office five months ago.
Developments since have only solidified the divide as the nation searches to define itself after decades of dictatorial rule that included the suppression of the Brotherhood. One man walking through the protests in support of Morsi on Saturday was overheard telling a friend, “Of course, Tahrir is full of people smoking and loose women. Thank God, we Muslims are united.”
Saturday’s protests were a reminder of the Brotherhood’s mastery of political organization.
At Cairo University, where the capital’s pro-Morsi rally was held, hundreds of thousands of people converged, brought from around the country by tour buses that lined the streets. Ralliers carried professionally made signs in support of Morsi, often with the same slogans. “We love you Morsi,” many read, and “The people support the president’s decisions.”
The current tumult in Egypt was triggered by a decree Morsi issued Nov. 22 in which he declared that his decisions were no longer subject to judicial oversight. Morsi said the change was a necessary measure to prevent Mubarak holdovers from thwarting needed reforms. But the move drew outrage from many, including some members of Morsi’s government, who accused Morsi of grabbing power in anticipation of Sunday’s court ruling.
The courts vowed to rule anyway. In what appeared to be an effort to make the ruling irrelevant, the assembly hastily passed the 234 articles that make up the constitution in an all-night session that ended Friday morning.
Opponents of the draft constitution say it has a distinct Islamist bent, and rights groups have raised concerns about articles that undermine personal and women’s rights, and freedoms of expression.
Morsi has refused to back down on his decree. In an interview with Time magazine last week, he said he believed Egyptians supported his exempting himself from judicial oversight.
Liberals have vowed to fight on, though it is unclear what they can do to force Morsi’s hand. The country’s military, so critical to Mubarak’s departure, has shown no interest in inserting itself in the struggle, with the proposed constitution notably granting it enormous autonomy from governmental oversight.
One question does remain, however: Who will oversee any referendum on the constitution? Judges traditionally have assumed that role, but many are on strike to protest Morsi’s constitutional declaration.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.