December 13, 2012
Egypt prepares for controversial referendum
Protesters maintain sit-in around the Presidential Palace
Amr Mohammed, a student, huddled in a tent near the Egyptian Presidential Palace. His finger, which he says was broken in a violent clash with police last week, is still swollen. Several of his friends together with him in the tent sport large bandages.
Mohammed says he joined the sit-in when it first started last week only to protest against the controversial declaration by President Mohamed Morsi who declared his word to be above judicial review, and the draft constitution, not to try to force Morsi from office. But now he says Morsi must go.
“I never wanted to bring down Morsi, however after the recent clashes and developments, I will not leave until he goes,” he tells The Media Line. “I am ready to die for this cause.”
Mohammed says he has been sleeping at the sit-in since he joined it last week, and goes home only briefly every few days. It gets cold at night, he says, but he has no intention of leaving.
Tens of thousands of Egyptians have come into the streets since Morsi passed a decree last month giving him sweeping powers to push through a new constitution. He has since backpedaled, but insists on holding a referendum this weekend on the new document. The opposition, which had hoped that the referendum would be cancelled, is now encouraging supporters to vote against it.
Seven Egyptians have been killed in the recent clashes between Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition. The Presidential Palace is surrounded by tanks and barbed wire.
Near Mohammed’s tent, Ashraf Zakaria and Shaker Hamed debate the best possible outcome for the current political stalemate. They both joined the sit-in last Friday, however not with the same aim.
While Zakaria, a bus driver, wants to see Morsi step down, Hamed who works in tourism, only wants him to cancel the referendum and achieve the revolution’s goals.
“Look at his palace’s walls,” Zakaria told The Media Line, pointing to a wall covered in graffiti of insults to the president. “How can he enter his palace after all of this?”
Both Zakaria and Hamed took off from work to join the demonstration.
“Morsi has to retract all of his decisions and be a just leader, but I don’t want him to leave,” Hamed said.
The sit-in was joined by tens of thousands of protesters on Tuesday, who poured into Cairo’s streets denouncing the contentious draft constitution.
The Constituent Assembly, overwhelmingly comprised of Islamists, drafted the document and rushed a vote on the proposed document’s 234 articles, which are subject of much debate. Many at the sit-in say it will curtail basic freedoms such as women’s rights.
Ibrahim Mahmoud, a tour guide, told The Media Line that he joined the protests to pressure Morsi to cancel the referendum. He described the draft constitution as “illegitimate” and criticized it for not representing all of Egypt’s currents.
“I respect democracy, I am not here to bring down Morsi, but if he goes through with the referendum he will technically be burning the country down; it will be an invitation for chaos and violence,” he said.
Egypt’s Judges Club, a body representing judges across Egypt, upheld its decision not to oversee the upcoming referendum. It was not clear whether there will be enough judges to monitor the voting.
Several marches meandered through Cairo this week until they reached the Presidential Palace, while others made their way to Tahrir Square.
“[Ousted President] Mubarak was described as a pharaoh, and even he stepped down after 18 days,” said one protester who preferred to remain anonymous.
She explained that while Mubarak was prosecuted for not protecting protesters during the 2011 uprising in his capacity as president, Morsi “sent his militias to kill protesters at the presidential palace.”
“Morsi is worse than a pharaoh, he is acting like a God, worshiped by his group,” she said, referring to the Muslim Brotherhood.
She said that Morsi “needs to know we’re Egyptian, we withstood occupation and many other hardships and we will not stand for injustice.”
The protester was joined by her daughter, who also preferred to remain anonymous in fear of “the Brotherhood militia.” She recounted being beaten and harassed herself by Brotherhood supporters on Wednesday.
“The Muslim Brotherhood, who claim to be following Allah and his prophet, harass and beat girls,” she said as she revealed a cut on her hand she claims was from the attack.
She believes that the situation calls for escalation, such as civil disobedience, to force Morsi to cancel the referendum.
“He is not making any concessions. Even at the national dialogue that he called for, it was as if Morsi was talking to Morsi,” she said.
Raoof Ammar, an engineer, said that he joined the protests to pressure Morsi to cancel the referendum or postpone it.
“We need to mobilize more people to force Morsi to heed to our demands; these thousands are not enough, we need millions,” he said. “The Muslim Brotherhood are very capable of mobilizing protesters and there are many more of us than of them.”