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Tempers rise ahead of vote in Egypt

By SARAH EL DEEB and MAGGIE MICHAEL Published: December 15, 2012

TV stations ran rival ad campaigns — one supporting a “yes” vote for the sake of stability, another advocating a “no” vote to avoid a constitution that would divide Egypt.

“We ask people to make up their minds and decide … and go vote,” Darrag told state TV.

Gaber Nassar, a liberal member of the panel who withdrew just before it approved the draft, said the document is flawed and charts a path for repression.

“This is a document that enslaves the Egyptian people, a document of repression,” Nassar, a constitutional law expert, told a news conference.

Thousands of Islamists filled a square in eastern Cairo, raising pictures of Morsi. A few miles away, the opposition chanted for a “no” vote in a sit-in outside the presidential palace. Liberal groups sent vehicles mounted with loudspeakers urging voters to cross “no” in their ballots.

Religious authorities had issued orders that mosques should not be used to manipulate the vote, but several clerics took to the pulpit to tell their congregations that voting in favor of the constitution is a way to seek victory for Islam.

In Alexandria, witness Mustafa Saqa said Sheik Ahmed el-Mahalawi, a well-known cleric in the ultraconservative Islamic sect known as Salafis, urged worshippers to vote “yes” and described the opposition as “followers of infidels.” His comments sparked arguments that quickly turned into fist fights and spread into the streets and residential areas around the mosque.

Violent standoffs

At least 19 people were reported injured in the violence and police fired tear gas to break up a standoff. State TV showed footage of Islamists brandishing swords as protesters hurled rocks at each other.

Clashes erupted again just before midnight, when el-Mahalawi told protesters outside the mosque that if they don't disperse, his supporters will come free him. Minutes later, rocks were thrown at the protesters, and gunfire crackled in the distance. An Associated Press reporter on the scene saw at least four people injured from rock-throwing.

Clashes also broke out in the town of Nagaa Hammadi, 290 miles south of Cairo.

Sheik Osama el-Hawi, also a Salafi, told worshippers that approval of the constitution was the only way to restore stability after nearly two years of turmoil following the revolution that ousted Mubarak.

“Saturday will be the day of victory for Sharia (Islamic law),” he said. His followers then briefly fought with protesters marching outside the mosque.