Protests erupt after new Egypt constitution passed

By Maggie Michael

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Nov. 30 2012 7:49 a.m. MST

An Egyptian protesters holds a cross and a Quran as he chants anti-Muslim Brotherhood slogans at an opposition rally in Tahrir Square, in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Nov. 30, 2012. Egypt's opposition has called for a major rally Friday in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where some demonstrators have camped out in tents since last week to protest decrees that President Mohammed Morsi issued to grant himself sweeping powers. Hundreds gathered in the plaza for traditional Friday prayers, then broke into chants of "The people want to bring down the regime!" — echoing the refrain of the Arab Spring revolts, but this time against a democratically elected leader. Other cities around Egypt braced for similar protests.

Khalil Hamra, Associated Press

CAIRO — Tens of thousands of protesters took the streets in Egypt denouncing President Mohammed Morsi and a draft constitution that his Islamist allies 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 what the opposition plans to be the second massive rally in a week against Morsi. They chanted, "Constitution: Void!" and "The people want to bring down the 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.

As a result, Egypt has been thrown 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.

But the sudden adoption of a draft constitution by an 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.

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.

Racing against the clock, the members voted article by article for 16 hours on the draft's more than 230 articles, passing them all by large margins.

The rush resulted in a process that at times appeared slap-dash. Assembly head Hossam al-Ghiryani doggedly pushed the members to finish.

When one article received 16 objections, he pointed out that would require postponing the vote 48 hours under the body's rules. "Now I'm taking the vote again," he said, and all but four members dropped their objections.

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