Egypt's opposition rejects constitutional referendum

CAIRO Mon Dec 10, 2012 10:01am IST

Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi (C) attends a meeting with Egypt's Vice President Mahmoud Mekky (L) with other politicians and heads of parties at the presidential palace in Cairo December 8, 2012. REUTERS/Egyptian Presidency/Handout

Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi (C) attends a meeting with Egypt's Vice President Mahmoud Mekky (L) with other politicians and heads of parties at the presidential palace in Cairo December 8, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Egyptian Presidency/Handout

Related Topics

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's main opposition coalition rejected on Sunday Islamist President Mohamed Mursi's plan for a constitutional referendum this week, saying it risked dragging the country into "violent confrontation".

Mursi's decision on Saturday to retract a decree awarding himself wide powers failed to placate opponents who accused him of plunging Egypt deeper into crisis by refusing to postpone the vote on a constitution shaped by Islamists.

"We are against this process from start to finish," Hussein Abdel Ghani, spokesman of the National Salvation Front, told a news conference, calling for more street protests on Tuesday.

The Front's main leaders - Nobel peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa and leftist Hamdeen Sabahy - did not attend the event.

Hundreds of protesters milled around Mursi's palace, despite tanks, barbed wire and other barriers installed last week after clashes between Islamists and their rivals killed seven people.

"Holding a referendum now in the absence of security reflects haste and an absence of a sense of responsibility on the part of the regime, which risks pushing the country towards violent confrontation," a statement from the Front said.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which propelled Mursi from obscurity to power, urged the opposition to accept the referendum's verdict.

Islamists say the vote will seal a democratic transition that began when a popular uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak 22 months ago after three decades of military-backed one-man rule.

Their liberal, leftist and Christian adversaries say the document being fast-tracked through could threaten freedoms and fails to embrace the diversity of Egypt's 83 million people.

"ACT OF WAR"

Mursi had given some ground on Saturday when he annulled the fiercely contested decree issued on November 22 that gave him extra powers and shielded his decisions from judicial review.

But some measures taken under the decree remain in force and the president has insisted the referendum go ahead on December 15.

Liberal opposition leader Ahmed Said earlier described the race to a referendum as an "act of war" against Egyptians.

Egypt is torn between Islamists, who were suppressed for decades, and their rivals, who fear religious conservatives want to squeeze out other voices and restrict social freedoms. Many Egyptians just crave stability and economic recovery.

Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan said the scrapping of Mursi's decree had removed any reason for controversy.

"We ask others to announce their acceptance of the referendum result," he said on the group's Facebook page, asking whether the opposition would accept "the basics of democracy".

The cancellation of Mursi's decree, announced after a "national dialogue" on Saturday boycotted by almost all the president's critics, has not bridged a deep political divide.

Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, a technocrat with Islamist leanings, said the referendum was the best test of opinion.

"The people are the makers of the future as long as they have the freedom to resort to the ballot box in a democratic, free and fair vote," he said in a cabinet statement.

But opposition factions, uncertain of their ability to vote down the constitution against the Islamists' organisational muscle, want the document redrafted before any vote.

"A constitution without consensus can't go to a referendum," said Hermes Fawzi, 28, a protester outside the palace. "It's not logical that just one part of society makes the constitution."

DIALOGUE

Egypt tipped into turmoil after Mursi grabbed powers to stop any court action aimed at hindering the transition. An assembly led by the Brotherhood and other Islamists then swiftly approved the constitution it had spent six months drafting.

Opponents, including minority Christians, had already quit the assembly in dismay, saying their voices were being ignored.

After the dialogue hosted by Mursi, a spokesman announced that the president had issued a new decree whose first article "cancels the constitutional declaration" of November 22. He said the referendum could not be delayed for legal reasons.

The decree ignited more than two weeks of sometimes violent protests and counter-rallies in Egypt. Mursi's foes have chanted for his downfall. Islamists fear a plot to oust the most populous Arab nation's first freely-elected leader.

Islamists reckon they can win the referendum and, once the new constitution is in place, a parliamentary election about two months later. The Islamist-led lower house elected this year was dissolved after a few months by a court order.

Investors appeared relieved after Mursi rescinded his decree, sending Egyptian stocks 4.4 percent higher on Sunday. Markets are awaiting approval of a $4.8 billion IMF loan later this month designed to support the budget and economic reforms.

The military, which led Egypt's transition for 16 turbulent months after Mubarak fell, told feuding factions on Saturday that only dialogue could avert "catastrophe". But a military source said these remarks did not herald an army takeover. (Additional reporting by Edmund Blair and Yasmine Saleh; editing by David Stamp)

FILED UNDER:
  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

Iran Nuclear Talks

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Child Marriage

Child Marriage

United Nations members resolve to end child marriage.  Full Article 

Kassig Remembered

Kassig Remembered

Indiana man beheaded in Syria remembered in Muslim prayer service.  Full Article 

Islamic State

Islamic State

Canadian vets plan to join Kurdish fight against Islamic State.  Full Article 

Rewriting History

Rewriting History

Fears grow about Hindu "Modi-fication" of education.  Full Article 

Japan Snap Election

Japan Snap Election

Japan PM seeks verdict on "Abenomics" in snap election  Full Article 

Support For Ukraine

Support For Ukraine

U.S. Biden voices support for Ukraine, denounces Russia's Putin  Full Article 

Ebola Outbreak

Ebola Outbreak

Ebola death toll rises to 5,459 - WHO  Full Article | Related Story 

Setback For Cameron

Setback For Cameron

In blow to PM Cameron, Britain's anti-EU UKIP party wins second parliamentary seat  Full Article 

Israeli Demolition

Israeli Demolition

Israel rejects EU states' appeal over razing militant homes  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device  Full Coverage