CAIRO – Several independent Egyptian newspapers suspended publication Tuesday as protesters prepared for marches amid mounting anger over the hurried drafting of the country's new constitution adopted by an Islamist-led panel.
The media protest involved at least eight influential dailies and was part of a planned campaign of civil disobedience that could bring in other industries and build on an ongoing strike by Egypt's judges.
Meanwhile, opponents of President Mohammed Morsi planned a massive rally outside the presidential palace in Cairo later Tuesday — the latest against the draft constitution and decrees by the Islamist leader giving him nearly unrestricted powers. Morsi called for a nationwide referendum on the draft on Dec. 15.
The draft constitution has been criticized for not protecting the rights of women and minority groups, and many journalists see it as restricting freedom of expression. Critics also say it empowers Islamic religious clerics by giving them a say over legislation, while some articles were seen as tailored to get rid of Islamists' enemies.
The country's privately owned TV networks are planning their own protest Wednesday, when they will blacken their screens all day.
The controversy over the draft has widened Egypt's political crisis and deeply divided the Arab nation nearly two years after the ouster of authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak.
The country's judges have already gone on strike over Morsi's Nov. 22 decrees that placed him above oversight of any kind, including the courts. Following those decrees, the constitutional panel rushed through a draft constitution without the participation of representatives of liberals and Christians. Only four women, all Islamists, attended the marathon, all-night session.
The crisis has divided the country into two camps: Morsi and his Islamic fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, as well as another ultraconservative Islamist group, the Salafis, versus youth groups, liberal parties and large sectors of the public.
The opposition brought out at least 200,000 protesters to Cairo's Tahrir Square on Nov. 27 and a comparable number on Nov. 30, demanding that Morsi's decrees be rescinded. Protesters have camped out in the square for close to two weeks.
The Islamists responded by sending hundreds of thousands of supporters into Cairo's twin city of Giza on Saturday and across much of the country. Thousands also imposed a siege on Egypt's highest court, the Supreme Constitutional Court.
The court had been widely expected Sunday to declare the constitutional assembly that passed the draft charter to be illegitimate and to disband parliament's upper house, the Shura Council. Instead, the judges went on strike after they found their building under siege by protesters.