ALEXANDRIA, Egypt -- Violence erupted between Egypt's divided camps Friday, the eve of the final round of a referendum on a constitution that has polarized the nation, as Islamists and their opponents pelted each other with stones while police fired tear gas in the streets of the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.
The contentious referendum, which would bring a greater implementation of Islamic law to Egypt, is expected to be approved in today's voting.
The new clashes -- in which Islamists' foes set fire to cars and dozens of people were hurt -- showed how the new charter is unlikely to ease the violent conflict over the nation's future. For a month, Egypt has been torn between Islamists and their foes, who accuse President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood of trying to unilaterally impose their will on the nation.
Meanwhile, Mr. Morsi was already gearing up for the next steps after the constitution's passage, making a last-minute appointment of 90 new members to the parliament's upper house, a third of its total membership. Current rules allow him to do so, but if he waited until the charter was passed, he could appoint only 10. The body is normally so toothless and ignored that few Egyptians bothered to vote in elections for it earlier this year, allowing an almost-total sweep by the Brotherhood and other Islamists. But once the charter is passed, it will hold lawmaking powers until elections for a new lower house are held -- which is not expected for several months.
Friday's appointments added to the tiny ranks of non-Islamists in the upper house, known as the Shura Council, but preserved the Islamists' overwhelming hold.
A spokesman for the main opposition umbrella National Salvation Front dismissed the appointments, accusing Mr. Morsi of setting up a token opposition much as ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak had. "This council and this constitution will also fail as long as there is no real opposition and no real dialogue, and as long as Morsi is only serving his clan and taking orders from the head office of the Muslim Brotherhood," Hussein Abdel-Razek said in an interview.
For the past month, both sides have been bringing their supporters into the street for mass rallies sometimes numbering in the tens of thousands -- and repeatedly erupting into clashes.
In part, Egypt's split has been over who will shape the country's path two years after Mubarak's ouster. An opposition of liberals, leftists, secular Egyptians and a swath of the public angered over Mr. Morsi's 6-month-old rule fear that Islamists are creating a new Mubarak-style autocracy. They accuse the Brotherhood of monopolizing the levers of power and point to the draft charter, which Islamists on the Constituent Assembly rammed through despite a boycott by liberal and secular members.
Mr. Morsi's allies say the opposition is trying to use the streets to overturn their ballot-box victories over the past two years. They also accuse the opposition of carrying out a conspiracy by former Mubarak regime members to regain power.
Intertwined with that is a fight over Islam's role in the state. Many Islamists vow to defend God's law, and clerics have depicted foes as infidels. The constitution would give broad leeway for hard-liners to implement Islamic Shariah law, making civil liberties and rights of women subordinate to a more literal version of Islamic law. It also gives clerics a say in legislation for the first time to ensure that parliament adheres to Shariah.
The charter's passage will do little to resolve the confrontation -- particularly if it is approved by a low margin with little turnout. The first round of voting occurred Dec. 15 in 10 of Egypt's 27 provinces, and preliminary results showed a meager 32 percent turnout, leading to a 56 percent "yes" vote. Voting today will happen in the remaining 17 provinces. Preliminary results are likely to be known late today or early Sunday.
Top opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei urged the public to vote "no," saying in a speech aired Thursday night: "We know if this constitution is passed, there will be no stability. This is not the road for stability or democracy. When 45 percent of people say 'no,' it is a strong indication. Some don't read or write, but they are conscious that they should not be tricked."
The Alexandria violence was a sign of how the conflict has moved beyond the constitution issue to deep resentments between the two camps. Riot police swung batons and fired volleys of tear gas to separate stone-throwing Brotherhood members and ultraconservative Salafis on one side, and youthful secular protesters on the other.
The clashes started when the two groups met just after Friday prayers at the city's main Qaed Ibrahim mosque, by the coastal promenade. Throngs of Salafi Islamists had gathered there for what they called "a rally to defend clerics and mosques."
At least 42 people were treated for injuries, a city health official said.