On the eve of voting ... police spray tear gas to control the crowds of demonstrators in Alexandria. Photo: AFP
EGYPTIAN Islamists and opposition supporters have clashed in Alexandria on the eve of the final round of voting on the country's new constitution, which appears to be heading for approval.
Police sprayed tear-gas as they broke up skirmishes between rival groups of Islamists and demonstrators supporting the ''no'' campaign outside the Al Qaed Ibrahim mosque in the coastal city on Friday, al-Jazeera reported.
Fighting broke out in Alexandria before the first phase of the referendum last week after a preacher urged worshippers to vote ''yes'' during his sermon. Opposition protesters besieged him in the mosque until he was rescued by an armoured vehicle. The rally on Friday was to protest against ''aggression on the houses of God and the besieging of scholars'', said a Brotherhood spokesman, Mahmoud Ghozlan.
The efforts of the President, Mohammed Mursi, to push the constitution through and expand his own powers have led to weeks of protests and sometimes deadly clashes.
Supporters of the charter argue it will help stabilise the country and boost economic recovery. Critics say it is drafted by Islamists, will not protect basic rights and is opposed by enough Egyptians to make it unrepresentative.
''Given that the President appears to be forging ahead with political changes, including the charter, with little regard for the opposition, it does not bode well for Egypt's transition,'' said the head of economics at the British risk adviser Maplecroft, Said Hirsh. ''Regardless of whether the constitution is adopted or not, Egypt is a set for a turbulent year.''
Unofficial counts show the charter is endorsed by 57 per cent to 43 per cent in the first phase. Giza, Menoufiya and 15 other provinces were due to vote on Saturday.
The National Salvation Front, an opposition group that wanted the vote postponed, said: ''To vote 'no' is to take a position against the Muslim Brotherhood's attempts to take over this country and dominate its fate.''
The opposition bloc and several human rights groups said the first round of voting had irregularities, so the Justice Minister, Ahmed Mekky, ordered an investigation.
''If others respect the democracy that they talk about and respect the will of the people, then they must stop the chaos they are stirring now,'' the Brotherhood's Mr Ghozlan said. Adopting the constitution ''will lay the foundation for the democratic transformation and for parliamentary elections'', he said.
The Middle East analyst at the International Crisis Group, Yasser El-Shimy, said he expected the ''yes'' margin to widen in the second round as the two main cities, Cairo and Alexandria, where opposition support is strongest, voted last week.