CAIRO (AP) - Tens of thousands of Islamists waved Egyptian flags and hoisted portraits of President Mohammed Morsi in rallies nationwide Saturday to support his efforts to rush through a new draft constitution despite widespread opposition by secular activists and some in the judiciary.
The demonstrations - the largest turnout of Morsi supporters since he came to office in June- were seen as a test of strength for Islamists seeking to counteract mass opposition protests denouncing the president's decision to seize near absolute power and the fast-tracking of the draft charter by an Islamist-led assembly ahead of a Constitutional Court decision on Sunday on whether to dissolve the panel.
Morsi says he acted to prevent courts led by holdovers from Hosni Mubarak's ousted regime from delaying a transition to democracy. But his decision last week to put himself above judicial oversight has plunged the country into turmoil and mobilized an increasingly cohesive opposition leadership of prominent liberal and secular politicians - a contrast to the leaderless youth uprising last year that toppled Mubarak.
The Muslim Brotherhood organized Saturday's protests a day after the opposition in a bid to avoid conflict and violence after days of street skirmishes between protesters from both sides.
"The people support the president's decision!" chanted crowds outside Cairo University, where tens of thousands had gathered by midday. They held posters that read "Yes to stability" and "Yes to Islamic law."Protests in other parts of Egypt were expected to also attract large crowds in the evening. The rallies were dubbed "Shariyya and Shariah," Arabic for "legitimacy and Islamic law."
|(AP) In this image made with a mobile phone camera, supporters of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi...|
Members of the assembly, who wrote the charter and approved it in a 16-hour long voting session it just after dawn Friday, were expected to hand to Morsi the final draft later Saturday. The president is then expected to set a date for a nationwide referendum on the document, possibly in mid-December.
The speeding of the constitutional draft through the assembly, despite a boycott by secular and Christians, was seen as an attempt to circumvent a legal challenge that threatened to dissolve the panel and delay the charter.
The assembly, which worked on the draft for months, has been marred by dispute, with liberal, secular and Christian members quitting in protest of what they call the Islamists' hijacking of the process.
The constitutional court ruled in June to dissolve parliament's Islamist-dominated lower chamber on grounds that the law governing the elections didn't provide equal opportunities for candidates, and it was ruling on the constitutional assembly on Sunday.
It's not clear, though, what the standing of the court's ruling would be since Morsi granted himself near absolute powers last week that deemed his decisions above judicial oversight.
|(AP) In this image made with a mobile phone camera, a supporter of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi...|
The Islamists point to the fact that Morsi was Egypt's first freely elected president and argue that the liberals and activists do not represent the vast majority of Egyptians.
Ibrahim Galal, a 21-year student, said Tahrir protesters are mobilized largely by members of the old regime who are in opposition to Morsi.
"If it's about numbers, we too can mobilize. Let the ballot box speak. Not everyone can speak for the people," he said.
"Why are you afraid of the (ballot) box!" chanted crowds in the pro-Morsi rally Saturday.
Tens of thousands of Morsi supporters gathered in Cairo but stayed away from the central Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the anti-Mubarak revolution and the site of the opposition protests, drawing up to 200,000 people on Friday, vowing to bring down the draft constitution and demanding Morsi repeal his decrees. Some judges groups have announced strikes until the decrees are repealed.
|(AP) A supporter holds a campaign poster depicting Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi at a rally in front...|
In the northern Mediterranean city of Alexandria, hundreds of riot police were deployed to create a buffer between several thousand pro and anti-Morsi protesters, who had clashed Friday.
Near Cairo University, dozens of Brotherhood buses stood parked after transporting people from outside the capital to the rally. Thousands others arrived on foot, chanting in support of Morsi as they marched.
"Our message to seculars and liberals... this is the real million-man protest," said ultraconservative Salafi Nour Party leader Yasser Borhani to the crowd in Cairo atop an erected stage.
The Brotherhood had originally said it would hold Saturday's rally in Tahrir but changed the location to avoid confrontation. The group said it canceled its rally in the southern city of Luxor after clashes between rival camps broke out there Friday.
Clashes sparked by the two-week old crisis have left two dead and hundreds injured.
The rival street demonstrations highlight the sharp divisions in Egypt nearly two years after the uprising that united and galvanized much of the country to oust Mubarak.
The Brotherhood and more conservative Islamists came out the biggest winners, securing nearly 75 percent of the seats in last winter's parliamentary election before the body was dissolved by a court ruling. But liberals highlight the fact that Morsi, the Brotherhood's candidate, won only 25 percent of votes in the first round of presidential elections. He went on to win the runoff by just over 50 percent, after a divisive race against a former regime figure.
The opposition is considering a number of options, including boycotting the referendum, an intensified street campaign of protests and civil disobedience. Some acknowledge that the opposition does not have enough time or reach to launch a campaign to encourage people to vote against the charter in time.
Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report.