— Egypt is set to hold a referendum on a new constitution starting Saturday, a vote that has polarized the nation. Supporters and opponents of the country's proposed new constitution have taken to the streets across the country ahead of the referendum.
In Cairo, those against the draft charter have made the presidential palace the focus of discontent. Despite facing concrete and metal barriers, demonstrators have flooded the perimeter, shaking hands with soldiers guarding the complex.
The mood has been largely upbeat, despite anger at what they see as a constitution that fails to represent all Egyptians.
Anti-Morsi protester Rheem said, “We are here with other Egyptians just to say no to this rubbish constitution.”
In the lead-up to a referendum for Egypt's draft constitution, thousands of demonstrators gathered both for and against the document. Those opposed to the draft gathered near the Presidential Palace in Cairo (shown here). (Yuli Weeks for VOA)
Veiled women led a crowd in chanting anti-Morsi slogans in front of the Presidential Palace in Cairo. (Yuli Weeks for VOA)
Soldiers stood guard beside the Presidential Palace where protesters gathered to say "no" to the proposed constitution. (Yuli Weeks for VOA)
An anti-Morsi protester waves an Egyptian flag atop a huge wall erected by Egypt's Republican Guard to prevent demonstrators from amassing around the Presidential Palace. (Yuli Weeks for VOA)
Supporters of President Mohammed Morsi chanted his name at a massive rally organized by the Muslim Brotherhood just miles from the Presidential Palace. (Yuli Weeks for VOA)
Protesters decry the way the document was rushed through by a predominantly Islamist assembly. They say the draft imposes a religious vision on the country while failing to protect civil rights.
Filmmaker and protester Hadi El Bagoury said, “This is only made for an Islamic power country. Egypt is not only for them.”
Some in the crowd criticized the United States for what they see as unconditional backing for President Mohamed Morsi.
But the main anger is reserved for the president himself.
Protesters contemptuous of the extra powers he granted himself, though now partially rescinded, want Morsi to step down.
A few kilometers away, supporters of the president and the draft constitution turn out in huge numbers.
“This is our [be]loved president. Our [be]loved president and future. Today and the future," said one man.
Those at the rally dismiss the idea of his ouster.
They also support what they say is a well-rounded constitution, at least for the Abrahamic faiths.
Mohammed Rahid Arwan stood beneath the Egyptian flags and Islamic black banners being waved above the crowd. “The best thing in the constitution is that it is balanced in all fields - for Muslims, Christians and even Jewish [people]," he said.
A Muslim Brotherhood official, Hamid Abdel Moneim, says the charter would bring about a stronger nation.
“This is the first stage for all of the building of the associations, political and economic, to have the right position for Egypt to be one of the effective and advanced countries in the Middle East," he said.
Rally leaders say they are trying to keep the opposing sides apart, after clashes last week left at least seven people dead.
Egypt's military has been called in to keep the peace in the run-up and during the vote, adding another powerful force into the political mix.