A heavy military guard is protecting the presidential palace in Cairo following intense overnight clashes between supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsy, whose attempt to put to vote a controversial draft constitution has deepened the Islamist-secularist rift in the country.
A dozen tanks and armoured personnel carriers have been deployed outside Mr. Morsy’s residence in Cairo’s upscale Heliopolis neighbourhood. After the bloody feud between the pro and anti-Morsy camps that left six people dead and 450 injured, calm prevailed in the area on Thursday. Security forces barricaded the President’s supporters with barbed wire to prevent clashes with political rivals, who had largely disappeared after the overnight violence.
There was sporadic violence throughout the night. Groups armed with clubs, knives, rocks and Molotov cocktails attacked each other and an anaemic police response, which grew feebler as the night wore on, was unable to separate them. Some had been shot in the chest, bearing bullet and birdshot marks.
The surge in the two-week unrest has put in doubt Mr. Morsy’s plan to put the draft constitution to a national referendum on December 15.
The secularists have been opposing the national charter, which they say has been drawn up by a 100-member assembly dominated by Islamists. In their view it does not reflect the hopes and aspirations of the secularists and the religious minorities, including the Coptic Christians, who comprise nearly 10 per cent of Egypt’s 80-million population. The simmering discord mutated into a full-scale rebellion when Mr. Morsy passed a decree on November 22 that gave him sweeping powers, including the right to finalise and put to vote the national charter, free from judicial intervention.
Over the past two weeks, the secularist opposition seems to have hardened and acquired a more organised appearance. On Wednesday, Mohamed ElBaradei, the former U.N. diplomat, was picked as the coordinator for the secular opposition. He exhorted Mr. Morsy and his allies to amend ways and “see what is happening in the Egyptian street, the division, the polarisation. This is something that leads us to violence and worse”.
On its part, Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Morsy’s parent organisation, said in a statement that the President was battling a counterrevolutionary plot.
“We are confident that the Egyptian people who made this great revolution that impressed the whole world will not abandon democracy or their revolution,” said the group.
The assertive tone of the Brotherhood notwithstanding, the stiffening standoff between Islamists and secularists has begun to shakeup Mr. Morsy’s inner core of advisers. As violence spiked, three more members of Mr. Morsy’s 17-member advisory group have resigned. In yet another signal that support from within may be crumbling, the al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy, the body in charge of handing down fatwas, has urged the President to start a national dialogue after freezing his controversial decree.