A vote by millions of Egyptians on a new constitution should have been an occasion for national celebration. But overreaching by Islamists, including the country's president, has made the referendum that begins Saturday a source of division. Even if the document is approved, President Mohamed Morsi will need to reach out to Egyptians — including Christians, secularists and women — who feel they have been excluded from a revolution they helped create. Yes, Morsi was legitimately elected, but that doesn't relieve him of the responsibility to preside over an inclusive government.
The proposed constitution was approved two weeks ago by an Islamist-dominated constituent assembly. Its preamble describes it as "the document of the 25th of January revolution, which was started by our youth, embraced by our people, supported by our armed forces." But many of the Egyptians who thronged Tahrir Square to demand the ouster of the autocratic Hosni Mubarak are suspicious of the document because of both its contents and the circumstances of its creation.
Two controversial aspects hark back to the Mubarak-era constitution: its declaration that legislation is to be informed by the principles of Islamic law, and its paternalistic references to women, such as, "The state shall … enable the reconciliation between the duties of a woman toward her family and her work." Although it says, "All citizens are equal before the law," it doesn't specify that women have equal rights with men.