— As Egyptians prepare to vote in the first round of a constitutional referendum Saturday, both opponents and supporters of the controversial document were out in the streets to protest.
Supporters of Egypt's new draft constitution were the first to take to the streets of Cairo Friday, congregating in front of a mosque near the presidential palace after midday prayers. Protests were reported in Alexandria, where rock throwing incidents broke out, and Assiout as well.
Morsi supporters rally in Cairo ahead of Saturday's referendum on a new constitution, Dec. 14, 2012.
In the capital, clusters of opponents of the constitution began swelling by mid-afternoon along a nearby boulevard facing the palace.
Large marches from different parts of the capital were set for later in the day. Liberal, Christian and leftist opponents of the new constitution complain that it was voted on in a hurried manner by a committee composed mostly of Islamists.
Secular opponents withdrew from the body after complaining that their voices were not being heard.
Mohamed ElBaradei, who heads the opposition National Salvation Front, has urged President Mohamed Morsi to postpone the referendum, due to begin Saturday and to be staggered over two successive weekends. He calls the constitution “illegitimate” and warns that efforts will continue to have it annulled.
ElBaradei warned Islamists not to try to impose their vision of society on all Egyptians. He said the proposed constitution and the referendum are not legitimate, and that the opposition will continue to use all peaceful, legal and democratic means to stop the constitution.
Supporters of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi chant slogans as one holds up the Quran, Islam's holy book, during a demonstration after the Friday prayer, in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 14, 2012.
Protesters gather for a demonstration in Tahrir square in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 14, 2012.
Supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi and members of the Muslim Brotherhood chant pro-Mursi slogans during a rally in Rabaa El Adaweya Mosque square in Cairo December 14, 2012.
A supporter of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi attends a rally in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 14, 2012. Arabic on the poster at center reads, "yes to the Egyptian constitution."
Supporters of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi attend rally in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 14, 2012. Opposing sides in Egypt's political crisis were staging rival rallies on Friday, the final day before voting starts on a contentious draft constitution.
Egyptian protesters chant slogans as they attend a demonstration in Tahrir square in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 14, 2012.
Egyptian protesters shout slogans in front of burning cars set on fire during a demonstration calling for a "No" vote in a referendum on a new constitution in the coastal city of Alexandria, Dec. 14, 2012.
Protesters play with a ball in front of a tank securing the area around the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 14, 2012.
Soldiers rest in front of the presidential palace, in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 14, 2012.
Secular activists complain the new document leaves the door open to an Islamic state, where laws and civil liberties are determined by Islamic clerics. The new document also gives the president power to neutralize the judiciary by packing the Supreme Constitutional Court with Islamists.
A spokesman for the constitutional committee which drew up the document in a marathon overnight session said a referendum is the most fair way to decide the matter. He urged Egyptians not to listen to what he calls "propaganda campaigns" and to vote to express their opinions freely and without pressure.
But on the streets of the capital, opinions are divided.
Analysts say that public opinion appears to be increasingly polarized over the issue
One man, who gave his name as Osama, conceded that the document was not perfect, but said he sees it as a step in the right direction. He said that he's out in the street to say "yes" to the new constitution, not because it is the best constitution, but because it's a step in the right direction.
Another man, Wael, who opposes the document, says it is one-sided and unfair.
"The constitution is something wrong because it's not our opinion about law and justice. It's only justice for the Brotherhood," he said.