A supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist groups holds a poster… (Khaled Elfiqi / European…)
CAIRO – Islamists rallied Saturday to support President Mohamed Morsi in battling what they see as a conspiracy by loyalists from the deposed regime of Hosni Mubarak to instigate anti-government protests and disrupt Egypt’s political transition.
The Muslim Brotherhood and ultraconservative Islamists marched in a counterdemonstration to a week-old protest across the Nile in Tahrir Square by opposition groups challenging Morsi’s expanded powers. Islamists back the president for his religious ideology but say Morsi’s central aim is to rid state institutions of decades of corruption left by Mubarak.
“There are different segments of society here. Not everyone who supports Morsi is a radical Islamist,” said Mohamed Hassanein, standing amid banners and the static of loudspeakers in front of Cairo University. “He is the president for all Egyptians. He is trying protect state institutions from remnants of the old regime.”
Such have been the president’s talking points since he took office in June. He and the Brotherhood say his recent power grab and a frantic race by an Islamist-dominated assembly to finish a draft constitution will open the way to parliamentary elections early next year and move the country forward.
[Updated 12:02 p.m. Dec. 1: Morsi told the nation Saturday that a referendum on the constitution would be held on Dec. 15.
“We hope to ascend into a new era of Egypt’s history, to a bright future for our beloved people,” the president said in an address to the assembly. “This is a breakthrough, the first truly representative constitution that protects the rights, freedoms and human dignity of all Egyptians."]
Protesters in Tahrir say the president has overstepped his bounds, peddling conspiracies and accumulating power reminiscent of Mubarak while brushing aside court rulings to propel the Brotherhood’s Islamist agenda. Morsi’s supporters argue that he is a good man, if inexperienced politician, who has been unfairly tainted by liberals and leftists.
“I’m here to watch and see what’s happening, not because I’m fully convinced of the president,” said Walid Alnasr, an Egyptologist, standing in a tightening crowd of men with their ears bent toward him. “The country is suffering from years and years of corruption. Do you think these things can change in three or four or five months? The president is new. He should be given time.”
Many of the tens of thousands of Islamists at the rally showed contempt for the courts, whose judges, many holdovers from the Mubarak era, are perceived by Morsi supporters to be against the president.
A poster pictured a regal Morsi standing next to an unruly collection of caricatures depicting holdover officials from the Mubarak era, including a constitutional court judge made to look like Miss Piggy and Prosecutor-General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, who resembled the Disney character Goofy.
“Morsi will save the nation,” said Ayman Alshahat, a teacher waving a banner. “He will continue the revolution to take back state institutions. ... This is for all Egyptian people. This is an invitation to negotiations that will move the country forward.”
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Special correspondent Reem Abdellatif contributed to this report