Morsi’s supporters back the president in Cairo rally
CAIRO // Tens of thousands of supporters of Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi streamed into the streets around Cairo University yesterday, in a resounding show of support for the Islamist leader's controversial recent decisions.
Waving banners and calling out chants in approval of a declaration that temporarily gave the president's decrees immunity from judicial oversight last week, many also said that they supported a draft constitution finalised in haste this week.
It is due to be put to a referendum - if the judges currently on strike to protest Mr Morsi's actions can be persuaded to oversee the poll. Mr Morsi in a speech last night called for the referendum to take place on December 15.
"The numbers of people here represent the happiness of people and their support of the president," said Mustafa Mohammed Hassan, a labourer from the Beni Suef governorate, who like the majority of men there sported the beard and calloused forehead that are signs of piety and frequent prayer.
The numbers of people at the raucous but peaceful rally easily equalled or exceeded the crowds summoned on Tuesday to Tahrir Square, the heart of last year's revolution against the regime of Hosni Mubarak. They protested against what they have called authoritarian moves by the president, which cripple the power of the judiciary to implement the law.
Mr Morsi said in interviews this week that he believes he has the support of more than 80 per cent of the population.
Although most people at yesterday's rally affirmed their support for the president, whose homely face was emblazoned on posters, badges and at least one T-shirt, many were strongly resistant to the idea that they would blindly follow the instructions of the Muslim Brotherhood Islamist movement of which Mr Morsi was a leading figure for many years.
"We are going out to object to those people who call us a herd of cows or goats being driven around," said Amira Ali, who wore a full-face veil and attended with her husband and four small children. Mrs Ali said that she was neither with the Brotherhood, nor with the hardline Salafist political parties, but that she supported Mr Morsi as an elected leader, who needed to be given more time to carry out his policies.
"There are a lot of people against him," she said angrily. "We haven't seen any dictatorship."
Others said that while they supported the president, they would not vote in favour of the new constitution in a referendum because the document would not enforce the strict version of sharia that they would like to see in Egypt.
"I oppose this constitution completely," said Mahmoud Al Ghamrawi, who works with a Salafist think tank. "It did not support our expectations in terms of sharia." He also complained that the constitution allowed the military to keep many of its privileges - a complaint he had in common with the more liberal and secular demonstrators, some of whom remained in Tahrir Square throughout yesterday.
The streets around the university were lined with hundreds of the minibuses that are the most common form of public transport in Egypt. A group of drivers having lunch said that they were being paid by the Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood's political wing, to transport people from rural areas from where Islamist parties pull most of their support.
"Cairo is a city of feloul," said Mr Al Ghamrawi, using the Arabic term for "remnants" of the old regime. "It is a corrupt city." The people who had come to the demonstration were, "simple people" he said, who represented the real Egyptians. Despite his strict views, Mr Al Ghamrawi - and a number of other very
austere Muslims in attendance - said that it was vital to safeguard the rights of Egypt's millions of Christian citizens, many of whom fear Islamist rule will lead to a further increase in the sectarian violence that has flared up since the fall of Mr Mubarak.
Some people even said they welcomed the opposition rallies that have dominated the news this week, despite the bitter public disputes between Islamist leaders and the opposition.
"We respect the opinion of the people in Tahrir," said Abdelkarim Omran, a teacher who attended the rally with his family and friends.
He was calmly doing a crossword, while his wife and children sat on a picnic blanket and handed around home-made cake as the seething crowds roared past them. "They have their opinions and it's necessary for us to have a strong opposition, for the stability of the authority."
Updated: December 2, 2012 04:00 AM