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Egyptian Islamists rally to back Morsy

| Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, 9:01 p.m.

CAIRO — Tens of thousands of Islamists rallied here Saturday to back President Mohamed Morsy's seizure of near-total power and a draft constitution with an Islamist bent.

A referendum on the constitution is set for Dec. 15.

Morsy has made its adoption a condition for rescinding a Nov. 22 power-grabbing decree that largely neutralized the country's judges.

His decree sent judges out on strike — and tens of thousands of angry Egyptians into the streets, in one of the larger demonstrations since the 2011 ouster of dictator Hosni Mubarak.

In a televised address, Morsy told Egyptians the proposed constitution is “the fruits of your ideas and discussions.”

Across the capital, several thousand members of liberal, leftist and other anti-Morsy factions entered a ninth day of protest in Tahrir Square. Some held up their shoes as a show of disdain during a broadcast of Morsy's speech.

Meanwhile, Egyptians awaited a possible court ruling that could aggravate the conflict but otherwise have little practical impact.

Critics describe the proposed constitution, written by an Islamist-dominated assembly, as attempting to impose Islamic rule over Egypt.

Islamists of all stripes — from Morsy's Muslim Brotherhood to ultra-religious Salafis and the former terrorist group Gama'a Al Islamiya — massed in Cairo's Renaissance Square, in the seaport of Alexandria and elsewhere, in a show of force countering days of anti-Morsy protests.

Their numbers here were estimated as around 100,000.

Brotherhood officials said they moved the rally away from Tahrir Square to avoid bloodshed.

Its mostly-male demonstrators carried posters of Morsy, a former Brotherhood leader, and waved Egyptian and Saudi flags, the latter suggesting support for a hard-line view of Islam.

Chants of “Morsy, God is great, Morsy!” and “Islamic, Islamic!” resounded.

The few female demonstrators marched separately from the men. One veiled woman carried an open Quran in a show of piety.

“This is what the majority of the people want. We like Morsy, and we trust him,” said one long-bearded Salafi, Mahdi Askari. He accused Tahrir Square protesters of “hanky-panky. The majority of them don't like Islam, and they don't want to be ruled by Islam.”

Amin Muhammed, 50, a farmer, dismissed anti-Morsy forces as Mubarak holdovers. He said he joined the protest “to implement the Shariah (Islamic law) for Allah.”

Radwan Salam, 64, a retired businessman, said he joined the Islamist rally to oppose “corrupt” judges. Like others, he accused the media of encouraging “simple people” to oppose Morsy.

That appeared to be a theme, with some signs demanding “the cleansing of the media.”

Along with liberal Egyptians, Western human-rights groups have criticized the proposed constitution. Amnesty International said it “falls well short of protecting human rights … ignores the rights of women, restricts freedom of expression in the name of protecting religion, and allows for the military trials of civilians.”

No concern for those issues was voiced at the Islamist rally, however.

Sameh Talat, a tour operator, said Morsy will “make everything better” and predicted voter approval of the constitution because “we are the majority.”

Fellow protester Ahmed Gouda, a physician, said he thought it will be “a basis for constitutions all over the Middle East.”

And Rifai Abdel Rizaq, 50, a business consultant, said Morsy is trying “to prevent chaos … he will never oppress the people.”

One exuberant Islamist protester walked past rows of buses that carried supporters to the rally, shouting: “Coming, coming, oh Islam!”

The Supreme Constitutional Court was expected to dissolve the constitutional assembly — as it previously dissolved the Islamist-controlled lower house of parliament over electoral irregularities — in a ruling today. Since Morsy has set himself above the courts, any ruling is likely to go unenforced.

Morsy earlier warned the court not to dissolve the upper house of parliament in any ruling.

Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at bhiel@tribweb.com.

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