Violence, tension mar last-minute campaigning before Egypt votes on disputed draft charter

Mohamed Morsi
Posted at 8:36 PM, Dec 14, 2012

CAIRO (AP) -- The tensions in Egypt have been evident ahead of tomorrow's referendum on a constitution drafted largely by Islamist allies of President Mohammed Morsi.

Several Muslim clerics today ignored orders from religious authorities not to use their mosques to rally support for the referendum on a new constitution. In the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, one ultraconservative cleric called for a "yes" vote while denouncing the opposition as "followers of infidels."

The remarks sparked arguments that quickly turned into fist fights and spread into the streets and residential areas around the mosque. At least 19 people were injured, as the two sides battled with some in the crowd wielding swords and clubs. Police had to use tear gas to break up the fight.

Both sides stepped up their campaigns after weeks of violence and harsh divisions that have turned the vote into a fight over Egypt's post-revolutionary identity. Egypt's army is deploying nearly 120,000 soldiers to protect polling stations. Meanwhile, a radical Islamist group also says it plans to send members to defend the stations alongside the army and police.