Two Dead as Egypt Islamists Overrun Opposition Tents outside Presidency, VP Says Referendum Still on Time

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Supporters and opponents of Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi lobbed firebombs and rocks at each other Wednesday as their standoff over his expanded powers and an Islamist-drafted constitution turned violent and left two people dead.

Bloodied protesters were seen being carried away as gunshots could be heard and the fierce political rivals torched cars and set off firecrackers, before riot police were deployed in a bid to end the confrontations.

Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the grand imam of the Cairo-based Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's highest authority, called for restraint and dialogue, and two of Morsi's advisers resigned over the crisis.

At the heart of the battle is a decree issued by the Islamist president expanding his powers and allowing him to put to a referendum the disputed constitution.

His declaration on November 22 has sparked deadly protests and strikes, but Vice President Mahmoud Mekki said on Wednesday that the December 15 referendum would go ahead as planned.

Even after the riot police deployed to break up the violence, the rival camps still clashed in side streets near the palace in the upscale Cairo neighborhood of Heliopolis.

"It's a civil war that will burn all of us," said Ahmed Fahmy, 27, as the fighting raged behind him.

"This is a failure of a president. He is waging war against his own people," 56-year-old Khaled Ahmed told Agence France Presse near the presidential palace.

The clashes erupted after thousands of Islamists rallying to the call of the Muslim Brotherhood bore down on the palace, tearing down opposition tents and chanting that they would "cleanse" the area.

The two sides threw stones at each other before the secular-leaning opposition protesters, who had besieged the palace in their tens of thousands on Tuesday, escaped into side streets.

Inside the palace, Mekki told reporters the vote "will go ahead on time".

The opposition, he said, would be allowed to put any objections they have to articles of the constitution in writing, to be discussed by a parliament yet to be elected.

"There is a real political will to respond to the demands of the opposition," he told journalists.

Prominent opposition leader and former U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei said Morsi bore "full responsibility" for the violence and that his regime was losing more legitimacy every day.

He said the opposition, jointly led by former Arab League chief Amr Moussa and ex-presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, was ready for dialogue on condition Morsi's decree be rescinded.

"We will not sit down for any dialogue without the cancellation of the constitutional declaration," he told reporters, describing Morsi's regime as "oppressive and autocratic".

"The revolution did not happen for this. It happened for freedom, democracy and human dignity," said ElBaradei.

"Morsi must listen to the people, whose voice is loud and clear. There is no legitimacy in excluding the majority of the people. There is no legitimacy in enabling one group to dominate Egypt," he said in reference to the Brotherhood, on whose ticket Morsi ran for office.

Earlier Islamist rallies converged outside the palace, where hundreds of anti-Morsi protesters had spent the night, forcing the opposition to leave the area.

"They (Islamists) attacked us, broke up our tents, and I was beaten up," said Eman Ahmed, 47. "They accused us of being traitors."

Protesters from the Islamist marches harassed television news crews, trying to prevent them from working.

"I'm here to defend democracy. The president was elected by the ballot box. The opposition protesters ran away as they can't face our strength," said Wael Ali, a 40-year-old Morsi supporter with a long beard.

As the country faces its most divisive crisis since Morsi took power in June, the United States called for an open and "democratic dialogue".

"The upheaval we are seeing... indicates that dialogue is urgently needed. It needs to be two-way," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told journalists in the Belgian capital.

Morsi insists the measures are aimed at cutting short a tumultuous transition but opponents have accused him of choosing an autocratic path.

Comments 14
Thumb LebDino 05 December 2012, 17:22

What an idiot this guy turned out to be....abusing democracy to fit his agenda.

It wouldn't be surprising if a couple of generals mount a coup d'etat to abort this stupid direction that Egypt is taking.

Thumb LebDino 06 December 2012, 15:04

As they say, power (or money) reveals a man's character. Give a person power or money and see how they behave. Well, this guy is showing us that power is corrupting him.

Thumb thepatriot 06 December 2012, 18:32

...and Bashar studied in London...these people study abroad in closed circles...alas!

Thumb LEBhasNOhope 05 December 2012, 18:47

I hope this teaches everyone out there to be organized and stick together for their fight for freedom and democracy. This another example of islamists hijacking the freedom movement for their own gains. All that blood was spilled by the youth to be free only to fall under the same dictatorship of before but with a differnte face. what a shame!

Thumb lebfrcan 05 December 2012, 19:22

I find that what is going on is normal.
After the dictatorship, the muslim brotherhood took over, tried to overpower the others and now there is a backlash...
All this instability is normal until they reach, in a few years, a certain form of democracy.
I respect the willingness and courage of the Egyption people.

Thumb lebnanfirst 05 December 2012, 19:44

@ lebfrcan
Agreed. The pendulum swings to both extremes before it settles in equilibrium. That said, secularist have a duty to help pull it back from either extreme to speed up the arrival at this political equilibrium.
Like it or not, some people (Muslim and Christian) are religious to the bone (something I could never understand but it is what it is) and regardless of all the benefits secularism has to offer in our opinion, these people have to be accommodated but not at the expense of basic democratic principles.
Where is Habib Bourghaiba when we need him most! He was the first Arab to grasp the future dynamics of the Arab systems.

Thumb LEBhasNOhope 05 December 2012, 20:32

I agree with both of you. Unfortunately the only reason the muslim brotherhood was able to do what they did was because they were very well organized. I truly hope the moderates can get together and form a very organized group that can lead to democracy for the sake of our children.

Thumb lebfrcan 05 December 2012, 19:23

*Egyptian

Thumb thepatriot 06 December 2012, 18:35

Muslim brotherhood was facing 95 divided other parties...this also explains that...

Thumb benzona 05 December 2012, 19:58

The Islamists won't get presents under their Xmas tree this year. The time to topple them has come.

Thumb benzona 05 December 2012, 22:48

Y'a FT, Rome wasn't built in one day. Democracy is a long process. It'll probably take ten years before Egypt becomes viable again. It's the price to pay to go from tyranny to democracy. And don't say what I didn't say, democracy has shown its limits worldwide. I'm a total partisan of Putin in Russia, some countries need strong men to govern them, but the corruption in Egypt or Syria is beyond anything imaginable. only the people close to the regime are getting a decent life, which is a minority of the people, hence the revolution. The day it becomes like this in Russia, Putin would also get dealt with.

Default-user-icon MUSTAPHA O. GHALAYINI (Guest) 05 December 2012, 23:52

poor middle east:
1)the palace in cairo is looking for hiwar
2)the palace in damascus is dying for a hiwar
3)the palace in baabda is working for a hiwar
arab spring??????????? nar ya habibi nar

Default-user-icon JCWilliams (Guest) 06 December 2012, 04:29

Egypt has never been a free country. Like Russia moving directly from Feudalism into Socialism after their revolution ; basically, it won't work. Especially when the majority or at least the organized majority want Sharia Law which is incompatible with democracy. Not only that, given Egypt's economy, their debt and the rising cost of food, plus the fact that the military has too much power, they can't afford democracy. Still, I think it's a bit sad that the forces that were out in the street deposing Mubarak are seeing the ascendency of a Muslim Brotherhood dictatorship. Bitter pill to swallow. ElBaradei is proving that he is an honorable man and a believer in Democracy and Rule of Law.I hope he isn't murdered or imprisoned..

Thumb slash 06 December 2012, 15:01

ma ahbalak , there were elections and he won ... go habibei find a job and try to get some real friends , your IQ level is freezing !