The draft constitution, on which the nation has to vote, pits Egypt’s Islamists against the country’s liberals

Opposing sides in Egypt’s political crisis were staging rival rallies on Friday, the final day before voting starts on a contentious draft constitution that has plunged the country into turmoil and deeply divided the nation.

The draft has pitted Egypt’s Islamists against the country’s liberals, minorities such as Christians and large sector of moderate Muslims. Liberal and secular activists charge that it opens the door to rights abuses and Islamist domination.

The densely written document was passed by an 85—member constituent assembly composed of mostly Islamists earlier this month. President Mohammed Morsi, from the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, rushed it to a vote scheduled for the next two Saturdays.

Earlier, liberals and church representatives withdrew from the panel drafting the charter, protesting the efforts of its Islamists to pass articles and embed others with clauses that could usher in a theocracy.

The wording of the charter opens the doors, critics say, to Islamic clerics having a say over legislation and civil liberties. It also defers to Islamic Shariah laws and cripples the country’s most prestigious court, the Supreme Constitutional Court.

Spasms of violence have erupted over the past three weeks between pro-and anti-Morsi camps and fears of more violence loomed over Egypt on the eve of the referendum.

Egyptian Coptic Christian churches called for mass prayers overnight to ask God for help. Thousands of Coptic worshippers crammed into a mountain church in a Cairo suburb, raising their hands toward the sky and breaking into tears during prayers.

On Thursday, Egypt’s most prominent opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei appealed to Mr Morsi to postpone the referendum, form a new constituent assembly and produce a better document that satisfy all Egyptians’ aspirations in order to “avert the spectre of civil war.”

“Fear God, Dr. Morsi,” Mr ElBaradei said in a televised speech.

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