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Egypt's opposition urges followers to vote 'no' on referendum

December 12, 2012|By Jeffrey Fleishman
  • An Egyptian who lives in Yemen casts his vote during the referendum for the Egyptian constitution at the country's embassy in Sana.
An Egyptian who lives in Yemen casts his vote during the referendum for the… (Hani Mohammed / Associated…)

CAIRO -- Egypt’s leading opposition group urged its followers Wednesday to vote against an Islamist-drafted constitution, ending weeks of indecision over whether anti-government protesters should boycott a referendum set for this weekend.

The move by the National Salvation Front will be a pivotal test for an opposition that appears to lack enough widespread support to derail a referendum backed by President Mohamed Morsi and the powerful Muslim Brotherhood. The opposition has revived the country’s revolutionary fervor but has been marred by divisions and poor organization.

The National Salvation Front “decided to call upon the people to go to the polling stations and reject the draft by saying 'no,'" said Hamdeen Sabahi, a former presidential candidate and one of the group’s leaders. "The people will rally at the polls and have a chance to topple the constitution.”

Perhaps sensing a possible setback, he added: “The referendum is not the end of our journey.”

The Front said its decision was contingent upon whether the nation’s polling stations would be monitored by judges and protected by security forces. Many judges, angry at Morsi’s recent power grab, have refused to supervise the referendum. That forced the Islamist leader to announce that voting would be held over two successive weekends – beginning Saturday – so participating judges can be rotated around the country.

A dialogue for national unity called for by the military between Morsi and different political factions was canceled Wednesday. A political compromise appears elusive as the president pushes ahead for the referendum and the opposition attempts to rally voters against a document it fears will strengthen Islamists and endanger civil rights.

Egyptians living abroad began voting on the proposed constitution Wednesday.

The country’s political crisis widened in late November when Morsi expanded his powers and freed his office from judicial oversight. The president has since reined in some of his authority but, despite clashes that have killed at least eight people, has refused opposition demands to postpone the referendum until a new, more representative document is written.

The turmoil has left many Egyptians bitter and frustrated at a time of deepening economic problems and uncertainty after nearly two years since the overthrow of autocrat Hosni Mubarak. 

“Divisions and confusion reign supreme in Egypt,” state a recent headline on Ahram Online’s news website. “Ordinary citizens do not know what to expect next from government; Islamists and liberals cannot find middle ground; Brotherhood and Salvation [Front] differ from within; army and police wait and see."

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