CAIRO - Tens of thousands of people waving Egyptian flags and hoisting large pictures of the president are demonstrating across Egypt Saturday in support of him and Islamic law.
The rally, organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, is seen as a test of strength for Islamists seeking to counteract large opposition protests held this past week. The Islamists argue that the liberals, who are still labouring to create a cohesive opposition nearly two years after the uprising that ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak, do not represent the vast majority of Egyptians.
The Brotherhood and harder-line Islamists won nearly 75 per cent of the seats in last winter's parliamentary election. But liberals highlight the fact that President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Brotherhood's political party, won only 25 per cent of votes in the first round of presidential elections. He went on to win the runoff by just over 50 per cent, after a divisive race against a former regime figure.
Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly liberal and secular forces, took to the streets twice this week opposing Morsi's decrees to grant himself sweeping powers. On Friday, up to 200,000 people packed the streets of Cairo alone, vowing to bring down a draft constitution approved by allies of Morsi, and demanding he repeal the decrees that neutralized the judiciary.
Morsi says he acted to prevent courts led by former regime holdovers from delaying a transition to democracy and dissolving the assembly that wrote the draft constitution.
"The people support the president's decision!" chanted crowds outside Cairo University, where more than 10,000 had gathered by midday. They held posters that read "Yes to stability" and "Yes to Islamic law".
The draft was passed by an Islamist-led assembly early Friday and is expected to be presented to the president Saturday. He will then decide on a date for a nationwide referendum, possibly in mid-December.
Egypt's constitutional Court rules on Sunday whether to dissolve the assembly. Liberal, secular and Christian members had already quit the body in protest of what they call the Islamists' hijacking of the process.
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. Among supporters of the rally, which also calls for Islamic law, are the Gamaa Islamaiyya — a fundamentalist group that fought an insurrection against the government in the 1990s — and the Salafi Nour Party, seen as more conservative than the Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood had originally said it would hold Saturday's rally in Tahrir Square, where the opposition has erected dozens of tents since Morsi issued his decrees last week, but changed their location to avoid confrontation. The group said it cancelled 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.