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Egyptians Stage Rival Demonstrations In Cairo


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

In Cairo today, supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi took to the streets again, staging demonstrations in different parts of Egypt's capital. With the rival camps separated, a reprise of last week's violent clashes is less likely, but tensions are still running high. Opponents are demanding that Morsi postpone a scheduled referendum on a draft constitution that they say is flawed. But the president says the vote will go ahead as scheduled on Saturday.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson joins us now from Cairo. And, Soraya, tell us where you are and what you're seeing.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, I'm outside the presidential palace on the other side of the concrete barrier that the military had put up some days ago to keep protesters out. So it's interesting. I mean, it shows that the soldiers are staying back. This is an anti-Morsi rally here. But the problem is it's not really the kind of turnout that the organizers of this protest were expecting. They were talking maybe 1,000, maybe two at its height. And at this point, it's starting to dissipate. So that has to be a big disappointment for the organizers here.

CORNISH: And what were you able to see at some of the pro-Morsi demonstrations today, the size of those?

NELSON: It's about a 10 or 15-minute drive here from outside a mosque in Nasr City, which is a middle-class enclave. And basically, the crowds are much larger there. Here, we're talking about Muslim Brotherhood members and other members of Islamist factions. And they were very determined to get their message out, that this constitutional referendum must go forward. They see this as a future for Egypt and that all this protesting that's going on against it is keeping people back, and that, in fact, that these are remnants of Hosni Mubarak's regime.

CORNISH: You mentioned the referendum on the draft constitution. Tell us more about what's at stake here.

NELSON: Well, the constitutional referendum is for this draft constitution, which was put together by a constituent assembly. It basically is the new constitution for the country post-revolution. And we're talking about basically what's going to create the rule of law here, what's going to create politics, social life, cultural life. And there's a lot of concern here by more secular Egyptians, but also by people who don't support Mr. Morsi - and there are religious people who don't support him as well.

But this is not going to be something that is that's helpful to Egyptians who are not pro-Morsi or not pro-Muslim Brotherhood. The feeling is that women's rights, that religious minorities, that secular people, that they won't have any rights under this. And there's a lot of confusion about what's actually in this document, which was hastily passed just a short time ago.

CORNISH: So, Soraya, at this point, does it seem that the referendum is going to go ahead as scheduled?

NELSON: The referendum is supposed to go ahead as scheduled. Mr. Morsi said he will not back down. It's important to note that the defense minister came out tonight and is urging both sides to get together and talk tomorrow - on Wednesday. And at this stage, there's some indication that President Morsi is amenable to that. There is not a clear indication yet about what the opposition plans to do. They will decide tomorrow whether or not also to boycott the referendum if it, in fact, moves forward or whether to encourage people to come out for a no-vote.

CORNISH: Soraya, thank you for speaking with us.

NELSON: You're welcome, Audie.

CORNISH: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. She spoke to us from Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.