(TheBlaze/AP) — President Mohammed Morsi is unlikely to worry if Egypt’s Islamist-leaning draft constitution passes by only a small margin in a Dec. 15 referendum, since he and his backers tout his 51 percent election victory in June as a “popular mandate” that is beyond any challenge.
But Egypt’s opposition said Sunday it will keep up the protests, stopping short of advocating either a boycott or a “no” vote less than a week before the ballot.
The proposed constitution is at the heart of the nation’s worst political crisis since the overthrow nearly two years ago of authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak. The charter has divided Egypt, with Morsi and his Islamist backers, including ultraconservative Salafis, in one camp, and secularists and leftists, including minority Christians and women, in the other.
“This is a constitution that will not contribute to stability,” prominent rights lawyer Negad Boari argued. “The president wants the referendum, regardless of the cost. They are creating a religious state that they had long dreamt of and waited for. It is now within reach.”
In a sign of how jittery the government is about holding the referendum, Morsi has ordered the military to maintain security and protect state institutions until the results are announced. The military is to coordinate with the police on maintaining security, and would also be entitled to arrest civilians.
Morsi insists on holding the referendum on schedule, but as a concession to his opponents he rescinded recent edicts granting himself almost unrestricted powers on Saturday.
Rushing the approval of the constitution in a late night session in the panel further inflamed those who claim Morsi and his Islamist allies are monopolizing power and trying to force their radical agenda into practice.
The New York Times relates:
“We are against this process from start to finish,” a spokesman of the National Salvation Front, Hussein Abdel Ghani, said Sunday, according to Reuters. He called for more street protests on Tuesday.
“We have broken the barrier of fear: a constitution that aborts our rights and freedoms is one that we will bring down today before tomorrow,” Mohamed ElBaradei, the former diplomat now acting as coordinator of the secular opposition, wrote on Twitter early Sunday. “Our power is in our will.”
The opposition sent hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets, in unprecedented mass rallies for the largely secular groups since they led the popular uprising last year that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
This prompted counter-protests by Morsi supporters, and sparked bouts of street battles that left at least six people dead and hundreds wounded.
Several offices of the Muslim Brotherhood also have been ransacked or torched in the unrest.
The National Salvation Front, an umbrella opposition group of liberal and leftist parties, said at a news conference Sunday that holding the referendum in such an atmosphere would lead to more strife. It called for another mass demonstration on Tuesday.
The front said Morsi and the regime are “gambling by driving the country toward more violent clashes that are dangerous for its national security.”
In a sign of the continued tension, Misr 25 TV, affiliated with the Brotherhood, announced that an alliance of Islamist groups will hold rival rallies on Tuesday in support of “legitimacy.”
Senior Brotherhood leaders accuse the opposition of seeking to topple Morsi and undermine his legitimacy.
The draft charter was adopted despite a last minute walkout by liberal and Christian members of the Constituent Assembly. The document would open the door to Egypt’s most extensive implementation of Islamic law, enshrining a say for Muslim clerics in legislation, making civil rights subordinate to Shariah and broadly allowing the state to protect “ethics and morals.”
It fails to outlaw gender discrimination and mainly refers to women in relation to home and family. The charter also has restrictive clauses on freedom of expression.
One article, specifically, underlined that the state will protect “the true nature of the Egyptian family … and promote its morals and values” – phrasing that suggests the state could intervene to prevent anything deemed a “threat” to families.
And the Islamists are reportedly using their time-honored tactic of employing religion to influence the vote. That tactic was widely used in a March 2011 referendum on a constitutional declaration that the Islamists supported and again in the election for both chambers of parliament.
They say a “yes” vote is one for God, Islam and the faithful. A “no” vote is portrayed as being against them.
In a new decree, if the constitution is rejected, Morsi would call for new elections to select 100-member panel to write a new charter within three months. The new panel would then have up to six months to complete its task, and the president would call for a new referendum with a month.
The process would add about 10 more months to Egypt’s raucous transition, but could answer some of the opposition demands of a more representative panel to write the charter, if the elections are not swept by Islamists.
The opposition has held a sit-in outside the presidential palace since Friday. A rally of a few thousand marched to join them Sunday.
In a nearby area, several hundred Morsi supporters held a rival rally, lining the street and chanting to traffic: “Islamic Islamic,” saying that voting day “will bring stability.”