Morsi declares Dec. 15 vote on Egypt constitution; Muslim Brotherhood rallies millions
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 just before 7 a.m. Friday.
Until Saturday, the anti-Morsi protests had seemed huge, gathering hundreds of thousands in Tahrir. Some of Egypt's most recognized public figures joined the protests, including Mohammed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as failed presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, who finished third in voting last summer.
But the pro-Morsi rallies — the first held since Nov. 22 — were a bracing reminder of the Brotherhood's political capabilities. In interviews, the Morsi supporters spoke in seeming unison about why there were there, voicing support for Morsi's decree and the new constitution, often in the same language.
"The constitution will bring back stability," said a woman, 25, who only wanted to be referred to by a nickname, Umm Zaineb, or mother of Zaineb.
Just as in the parliamentary elections last year, and presidential elections earlier this year, the Brotherhood demonstrated its ability to get out the vote, often from people who believed Islam was under attack from liberals and secularists. Among the chants people yelled Saturday was "With our blood and our soul, we will defend Islam."
It also was clear the Brotherhood intends to fight the upcoming referendum on religious terms, something that will inflame opponents as well, who say that the proposed constitution does not represent the mosaic of Egyptian voices that includes a large Christian population. The crowd seemed particularly focused on the proposed Artice Two, which calls for Egyptian laws to be based on the "principle of shariah" Islamic law.
"First of all, the constitution has not passed yet, and there is a current that rejects it," said Rashia el Zamoran, 20, a secretary from Cairo. "They say shariah does not treat men and women equally, that this is a flaw with shariah. We want to prove this is not true."
Morsi has refused to back down on his decree. In an interview with Time magazine published earlier in the week, he said he believed that Egyptians supported his exempting himself from judicial oversight. "I think you have seen the most recent opinion surveys — I think more than 80 percent, around 90 percent, of the people in Egypt are, according to these opinion measures, they are with what I have done. It's not against the people, it's with the people."
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.
Amina Ismail is a McClatchy special correspondent. Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com. Distributed by MCT Information Services.
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