CAIRO Thousands of opponents and supporters of Egypt’s Islamist president staged rival rallies in the nation’s capital Tuesday, four days ahead a nationwide referendum on a contentious draft constitution.
The demonstrations got under way just hours after masked assailants set upon opposition protesters staging a sit-in at Tahrir Square, firing birdshot and swinging knives and sticks, according to security officials.
At least 11 protesters were wounded in the predawn attack, according to a Health Ministry spokesman quoted by the official MENA news agency.
The violence served as a stark reminder of the stakes in Egypt’s political battle over the disputed draft constitution, which goes to a nationwide referendum on Saturday. The charter has deeply polarized the nation and triggered some of the worst street violence since Morsi took office in June as Egypt’s first freely elected president.
On one side of the divide, there is President Mohammed Morsi, his Muslim Brotherhood and ultraorthodox Salafis, while on the other there is a collection of liberals, leftists and Christians who claim the draft charter restricts freedoms and gives Islamists vast influence over the running of the country.
In Cairo’s Nasr City district, a Muslim Brotherhood stronghold, tens of thousands of the president’s backers, some of them waving Egyptian flags, rallied Tuesday in front of a neighborhood mosque.
“I want the chant of ‘Morsi’ to shake the earth,” a man on a stage set up in front of the mosque shouted into a microphone. “Alleyway to alleyway, house to house, the constitution means stability.”
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