By Reem Abdellatif
1:52 PM EST, December 21, 2012
CAIRO -- Islamists and their opponents clashed in the Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria on Friday, the eve of the nation's final vote on a divisive constitutional referendum. At least 60 people were injured.
Supporters of the Islamist-drafted constitution and a crowd of mostly young people hurled rocks at each other outside the downtown Qaed Ibrahim Mosque along the Mediterranean coastline, according to state-run news and witnesses.
Hundreds of security personnel tried to quell the riot by standing between the two groups and firing tear gas. Some protesters picked up several canisters and hurled them into the sea so they could advance on the Islamists.
"It all started when central security forces separated Muslim Brotherhood and the [opposition] protesters, shot tear gas on both sides and then left," said Mahmoud Aly, a witness.
Aly said at least two buses belonging to supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were destroyed. A dense cloud of black smoke filled the streets surrounding the mosque after one bus was set ablaze by angry youths, witnesses said.
"Most youths here aren't really politically affiliated, they are just normal locals angry with the Islamists," Aly added.
The nation's opposition movements, which held protests against the Muslim Brotherhood and the draft constitution Tuesday, said they did not officially call for Friday's demonstration.
Thousands of Islamists who support President Mohamed Morsi, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, chanted Friday to "defend" Islam and the president. By early evening, the violence near the mosque had tapered off but sporadic clashes continued in neighboring areas, according to the state-run news agency.
Alexandria was the scene of similar violence last week as Islamists wielding wooden sticks and swords battled protesters who had surrounded Qaed Ibrahim mosque after the Friday sermon.
Last Friday's clashes began when Sheik Ahmed el Mehallawy, a prominent local imam, was said to have asked worshipers in the mosque to vote in favor of the proposed constitution. At least 15 people were injured, according to local news.
After the latest clashes, el Mehallawy told Al Jazeera television Friday that the protesters who opposed the Islamists were "thugs paid by the old regime and opposition parties."
Egyptians will vote in the second and final round Saturday in a referendum over whether to approve the controversial constitution, which was written primarily by Islamist political factions. Unofficial results in the first phase showed that 56.5% of voters approved the draft.