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Egypt

Referendum to go ahead despite divisive demos

In Cairo, tens of thousands of supporters and opponents of the president again took to the streets on Tuesday night. Yet those seeking to prevent a referendum on the constitution seem set for disappointment.

Tens of thousands of Islamists gathered in front of a large mosque in the Cairo district of Madinat Nasser on Tuesday evening (11.12.2012). The aim of their protest was clearly audible, even from the side streets, as members of the crowd shouted "the constitution, the constitution!," selling any interested bystanders a copy of the document for 40 cents.

Draped everywhere, banners and posters spelled out "yes to the constitution," or featured President Mohammed Morsi's portrait. This was no ordinary demonstration - essentially, it was a promotional event for Saturday's constitutional referendum.

Backed by beating drums, demonstrators danced and chanted: "Vote for the constitution, so that the sun will rise for this country tomorrow."

Where protesters formerly waved copies of the Koran in the air, this was now replaced by a copy of the constitution. On the main stage, an Islamic scholar revved up the crowd, saying the Islamists had once again united against the "enemies of religion."

'Conspiracy' of the opposition

The protestors had little understanding for those who were demonstrating simultaneously in front of the presidential palace. Mohammed, a lawyer and member of the Muslim Brotherhood, said the counter-demonstrators "fear participating in the referendum because they have nothing that supports their claims."

"If the majority was with them, they would be able to take part in the referendum and vote 'no,'" the lawyer said.

As for the opposition leaders themselves, they have nothing but contempt - and some even accuse the anti-Morsi demonstrators as being the leaders of a grand conspiracy. One protest banner held by two teenagers points the finger at prominent dissident Mohamed ElBaradei, the United States Secret Service, members of the Mubarak regime and the "corrupt" media.

Similar banners extend the blame to all other opposition leaders - most of them confine themselves to generalities, making their accusations understandable to all.

'Conspiracy' of the Mubarak regime

The violence that occurred previously against secular protesters is also seen by many as a conspiracy - an argument used at the time by Morsi. "The violence occurred because former members of the Mubarak regime paid thugs and set them loose on people to create problems and divide the Egyptian people," said Muslim Brotherhood member Mohammed.

But about 10 minutes away, the perspective is quite different. Outside the presidential palace, tens of thousands of the secular opposition are also demonstrating. A white banner strung across the road reads: "Convict the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood for the murder of peaceful protesters!"

In the opinion of almost all opposition supporters, it wasn't hired thugs who attacked the protesters - it was the Muslim Brotherhood.

Concerns for the illiterate

Although secularists are demonstrating against the draft constitution and the referendum, for them it's also about being against the president and the Muslim Brotherhood. Adjacent to the palace entrance is a large banner reading "down with the Murschid government!" Murschid is a reference to Mohammed Badie, the main leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi is accused of being influenced or even controlled by Badie.

At the opposition demonstration, a woman urged the crowd over a megaphone not to buy goods from stores run by people associated with the brotherhood. Nearby, other women distributed flyers reading, "Don't trust the Muslim brothers!"

In response to accusations of the Islamists that the protesters are rejecting the referendum out of fear, 28-year-old Ramy says they are concerned about illiterate people. The Islamists tell the illiterate to "'go and vote for Islam,' and they say 'yes.' But it's not about wanting Islam or not. Can any of them actually read the 260 articles of the constitution?"

Referendum will take place

For the time being, both the Islamists and secular demonstrators are remaining peaceful, although the latter did break through a barricade around the presidential palace, erected by the military. But the presidential guard did not step in, instead they positioned a long row of soldiers in front of the palace.

Most opposition demonstrators concede that it's not likely their demonstration will prevent the referendum from going ahead this Saturday.

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