ShareThis Page

Egypt's Morsy rebuffs demands to delay vote on constitution

| Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, 8:28 p.m.

CAIRO — Egypt's main opposition groups rejected President Mohamed Morsy's weekend move to ease political tensions as the country braced for fresh protests and the military was given authority to arrest civilians before this week's referendum on an Islamist-drafted constitution.

Morsy on Sunday rescinded most of the decree he issued last month that gave him near absolute authority by declaring his office free from judicial oversight. At the same time, he rebuffed key opposition demands to delay a constitutional referendum set for Saturday and to order the writing of a new charter that protects civil rights against the influence of Shariah law.

Holding a referendum now “risks pushing the country toward violent confrontation,” said a statement from the main opposition group, the National Salvation Front led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei and senior politicians. “We are against this process from start to finish.”

Fearing clashes between Islamists and the predominantly secular opposition, Morsy has empowered the army to arrest civilians and protect public buildings through the referendum vote. The move occurs months after the military, which had ruled the country under martial law for more than a year, handed power to Morsy amid widespread accusations its tribunals and detention of civilians violated human rights.

During the past two weeks, at least eight people have been killed and more than 700 injured in protests nationwide.

This country of 82 million people has been swept into a dangerous political drama defined by sharpening differences between Islamists and secularists, an economy in turmoil and the lingering frustration for many that Egypt is no better off nearly two years after the overthrow of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Morsy huddles with advisers, protesters camp in tents and the opposition senses the president has been shaken by a revived protest movement that has drawn tens of thousands into the streets. But Morsy appears determined — and likely has the votes — to pass a constitution that will edge the nation closer to a political Islam desired by his allies in the dominant Muslim Brotherhood.

“It has been our fate to be ruled by a terrorist group that the current Egyptian president hails from,” said a statement the Alliance of Revolutionary Forces. “He lost his legitimacy in several ways, after he split the nation and forced Egypt to show the first signs of civil war. We are with the strong demands of the street, which calls for the fall of this traitorous regime.”

Such fervor has united an often disparate opposition movement. But leading dissident figures remain split over whether to boycott the referendum or use the movement's new-found spirit to rally a ‘no' vote against the charter.

Both scenarios have risks: A boycott gives Morsy an easy victory, but if a ‘no' vote fails in a transparent poll, the opposition faces a blow to its momentum. That energy may already be fading. The numbers of protesters in Tahrir Square and marching to the presidential palace were noticeably fewer on Sunday than in previous days.

The Muslim Brotherhood, whose offices around the country have been ransacked and firebombed, said in a statement that Morsy's rescinded decree means “there is now no excuse for mass mobilization. ... This will reveal who cares about the country's interest and who serves particular agendas and personal interests.”

If the referendum is defeated, a new constituent assembly will be formed to draft a new charter.

The crisis began Nov. 22 when Morsy — fearing the nation's highest court would dissolve the current Islamist-led assembly — expanded his powers to shield the assembly from judicial oversight. Morsy said the action was needed to advance the country's political transition and open the way for parliamentary elections. But critics have called him a dictator and pharaoh intent on advancing the Muslim Brotherhood's Islamist agenda.

There is a possibility the Supreme Constitutional Court could rule against the legitimacy of a new constitution. Before Morsy's decree, the court was deciding whether to dissolve the constitutional assembly, which had been accused of not representing all Egyptians. But Morsy still wields sweeping executive and legislative powers, and it is unclear how much authority the courts will have since he has reversed his decree.

The opposition has called for strikes and nationwide rallies on Tuesday.

“Protests and partial strikes will eventually lead to a general strike until the demands are met, but it takes time to organize and mobilize,” said Karima Hefnawi, a member of the National Salvation Front.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.