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Egyptians protest after draft constitution passed

Egyptians have again taken to the streets of Cairo and other cities to protest against President Mohamed Morsi. This came after an Islamist-led assembly rushed through a draft constitution for the country.

Tens of thousands of people flooded into Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday evening, the focal point of the rallies that brought down longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak in early 2011. Among the other cities that saw major demonstrations were Alexandria and the Nile Delta town of Al-Mahalla Al-Kobra, where clashes were reported between anti-government protesters and supporters of President Morsi.

“Down with the constituent assembly,” some protesters chanted in Tahrir Square. Some banners condemned the president for acting like a dictator, a charge the opposition have made since November 22. That's when the president issued a decree seizing sweeping powers which, among other things, put his decisions beyond judicial review.

Earlier in the day, Morsi was heckled by some worshippers as he attended Friday prayers at a Cairo mosque.

Human rights concerns

Opposition activists say the draft constitution, which was adopted following a marathon overnight session that ended in the early hours of Friday, raises serious concerns about human rights, including religious freedom. Christians and more moderate Muslims had walked out of the constituent assembly before it voted to adopt the constitution. They complained that their opinions had gone unheard in the assembly, which is dominated by members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.

Among the provisions of the draft is an article that was retained from the old constitution, which defines “the principles of sharia” as the main source of legislation. It also adds new Islamic references. The draft also includes a provision limiting any single president to just two, four-year terms and some civilian oversight of the country's military.

The head of the constituent assembly, Hossam el-Ghiriani said the president would review the draft on Saturday. After that, the president is expected to call a referendum on the new constitution, to be held within the next two weeks.

In an apparent attempt to placate his opponents, President Morsi used an appearance on state television on Friday to say he welcomed peaceful demonstrations but that there was no place for violence.

"I am very happy that Egypt has real political opposition," he said. Earlier, he reiterated his pledge that he would relinquish the powers he seized in the November 22 decree "as soon as the people vote on a constitution."

The opposition has pledged to step up pressure on the president, with more rallies to be held on Saturday. The Muslim Brotherhood said it would hold counter-demonstrations, but that it would avoid Tahrir Square.

pfd/jm (Reuters, AFP)