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Dozens injured in Egypt clashes as police fire tear gas at Morsi supporters and opponents

Clashes broke out Friday in Alexandria ahead of Saturday's final round of voting on the country's controversial draft constitution. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports.

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt — Supporters of President Mohammed Morsi and his opponents hurled rocks at each other in Egypt's second city on the eve of a final vote on a new constitution shaped by Islamists.

Police fired tear gas as scores of opponents of the constitution and thousands of Islamists hurled rocks across a security cordon separating them near a mosque in Alexandria that was the focus for violence last week.



"God is great," Islamists chanted when the clash began.

The Egyptian Ministry of Health said at least 55 people were injured in the clashes near the al-Qaid Ibrahim mosque in Alexandria, state media reported.

The Islamists had gathered in support of an Islamic vision of Egypt's future a day before a second round of voting in a referendum on the basic law. Opposition supporters had also turned out as worshipers assembled for Friday prayers.

Morsi and his Islamist allies back the draft constitution as a vital step in Egypt's transition to democracy almost two years after the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

The opposition says the draft, drawn up by an Islamist-dominated assembly, is a recipe for deepening divisions and more violence.

The Muslim Brotherhood called for the mass gathering in Alexandria to protest after a violent confrontation between Islamists and the liberal, secular opposition last week ended with a Muslim preacher besieged inside his mosque for 14 hours.

Rival factions had used clubs, knives and swords last week, but this time police kept the feuding sides apart, although witnesses saw several protesters and one police officer being helped away. Some protesters had head wounds.

The run-up to the final round of voting Saturday on a new constitution has been marked by often violent protests that have cost at least eight lives. The first round on Dec. 15 produced a yes vote that is expected to be repeated in the second round.

Lines of riot police cordoned off Alexandria's al-Qaid Ibrahim mosque, scene of last week's violence. Islamists chanted pro-Islamic slogans while a smaller group of opponents gathered nearby, chanting against Morsi, propelled to power in a June election by the Muslim Brotherhood.

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"The people want the implementation of Shariah," the Islamist sympathizers shouted, in a show of support for Islamic law. "Our souls and blood, we sacrifice to Islam," they shouted.

In one incident, an Islamist filming anti-Morsi protesters was grabbed and roughed up. Islamists on the other side of a security cordon pushed and shoved police trying to reach him.

The opposition, facing defeat in the referendum, has called for a no vote against a document it says is too Islamist and ignores the rights of women and minorities, including the 10 percent of Egyptians who are Christian.

AP

Opponents of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi clash with Islamist supporters of the president,as a cordon of riot police separates the groups in Alexandria, Egypt, on Friday.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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