Tens of thousands of Islamists waved Egyptian flags and hoisted portraits of President Mohammed Morsi in rallies nationwide Saturday to support his efforts to rush through a new draft constitution despite widespread opposition by secular activists and some in the judiciary.
The demonstrations -- the largest turnout of Morsi supporters since he came to office in June -- were seen as a test of strength for Islamists seeking to counteract mass opposition protests denouncing the president's decision to seize near absolute power and the fast-tracking of the draft charter by an Islamist-led assembly ahead of a Constitutional Court decision on Sunday on whether to dissolve the panel.
Morsi says he acted to prevent courts led by holdovers from Hosni Mubarak's ousted regime from delaying a transition to democracy. But his decision last week to put himself above judicial oversight has plunged the country into turmoil and mobilized an increasingly cohesive opposition leadership of prominent liberal and secular politicians -- a contrast to the leaderless youth uprising last year that toppled Mubarak.
The Muslim Brotherhood organized Saturday's protests a day after the opposition in a bid to avoid conflict and violence after days of street skirmishes between protesters from both sides.
"The people support the president's decision!" chanted crowds outside Cairo University, where tens of thousands had gathered by midday. They held posters that read "Yes to stability" and "Yes to Islamic law."Protests in other parts of Egypt were expected to also attract large crowds in the evening. The rallies were dubbed "Shariyya and Shariah," Arabic for "legitimacy and Islamic law."
Members of the assembly, who wrote the charter and approved it in a 16-hour long voting session it just after dawn Friday, were expected to hand to Morsi the final draft later Saturday. The president is then expected to set a date for a nationwide referendum on the document, possibly in mid-December.
The speeding of the constitutional draft through the assembly, despite a boycott by secular and Christians, was seen as an attempt to circumvent a legal challenge that threatened to dissolve the panel and delay the charter.
The assembly, which worked on the draft for months, has been marred by dispute, with liberal, secular and Christian members quitting in protest of what they call the Islamists' hijacking of the process.
The constitutional court ruled in June to dissolve parliament's Islamist-dominated lower chamber on grounds that the law governing the elections didn't provide equal opportunities for candidates, and it was ruling on the constitutional assembly on Sunday.
It's not clear, though, what the standing of the court's ruling would be since Morsi granted himself near absolute powers last week that deemed his decisions above judicial oversight.
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