Egypt's Opposition Coalition Calls For Boycott Of Constitutional Referendum

 @JJMcGrath3000j.mcgrath@ibtimes.com
on December 09 2012 5:47 PM
  • Anti-Morsi Protest
    Anti-Morsi protesters walk near banner in front of the presidential palace in Cairo. Reuters
  • Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi-Mural-12.12.08
    A man takes a photograph of a mural of Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi, featuring Arabic words that read "Leave" on the wall of the presidential palace in Cairo on Saturday. Reuters
  • Mohammad Salim Al-Awa And Others-12.12.08
    Former presidential candidate Mohammad Salim Al-Awa, center, speaks during a news conference with other politicians after their meeting with Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi Saturday. Reuters
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Egypt's main opposition coalition on Sunday rejected President Mohammed Morsi's plan for a constitutional referendum next weekend, saying it risked dragging the country into "violent confrontation."

Morsi's decision 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, a representative of the National Salvation Front, said at a news conference, Reuters reported. The front is calling for more street protests on Tuesday, the news agency said.

The front also called for a boycott of the vote Morsi has called for next Saturday, the Guardian reported.

The front's main leaders -- 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei, former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, and leftist Hamdeen Sabahy -- did not attend the news conference.

"The referendum will cause further division and polarization, and the front refuses the draft constitution, which cements presidential oppression and tramples freedoms and liberties" Sameh Ashour, head of the Lawyers Syndicate, said in a statement on behalf of the coalition, the Guardian reported.

"To have a referendum now with the threat of Muslim Brotherhood militias and threats and intimidation against the opposition, and absence of security is grossly irresponsible. The front calls on Egyptians to continue to peacefully protest on Tuesday against the constitution and a president who ignores his people," Ashour said.

The president’s decision was announced late Saturday by Mohammad Salim Al-Awa, an Islamist member of a dialogue committee that met with the president, the Voice of America reported.

Awa said the first clause of the Nov. 22 edict, which gave the president broad powers, has been annulled as of Saturday, but its consequences remain in effect.

The opposition National Salvation Front met behind closed doors Sunday to discuss what new measures to take, including a possible general strike. ElBaradei, who heads the group, insisted the draft constitution “thwarts our rights and freedom” and “will be toppled today, before tomorrow."

Meanwhile, Egyptian judges have ended their nearly two-week-long strike and will return to the bench Monday, the director of the country's judicial inspection department told al-Jazeera Sunday, according to Bikya Masr. The judges will hold a press conference about their return that day, Bikya Masr reported.

Opposition calls for more protest marches to the presidential palace did not appear to have spurred a major outpouring Sunday, VOA reported. A crowd of a few hundred protesters clustered in Tahrir Square and close to the presidential palace.

By late afternoon, the Republican Guard appeared to block protesters from approaching the palace and to prevent those already near it from leaving. Prime Minister Hesham Kandil urged protesters across the capital to end their sit-ins.

Morsi’s latest move appeared to have taken some of the wind out of the protests.

"This has confused many, who opted to stay home," Tarek Shalaby of the Revolutionary Socialists told the Associated Press as he marched toward the palace. "But we should continue our pressure. We can't lose our momentum."

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party began its push for a "Yes" vote in the referendum next Saturday, posting an audio version of the new draft constitution on its website.

Brotherhood representative Mahmoud Ghozlan said the scrapping of the decree had removed any reason for controversy. "We ask others to announce their acceptance of the referendum result," Ghozlan said on the group's Facebook page, asking whether the opposition would accept "the basics of democracy."

In the announcement Saturday night, Morsi replaced the scrapped decree with a new one that doesn't give him unrestricted powers, but allows him to give voters an option if they decide to vote "No" on the disputed draft charter, AP reported.

Under the new decree, if the constitution is rejected, Morsi would call for new elections to select a 100-member panel to write a new charter within three months. That body would then have as long as 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 already lengthy -- and raucous -- transition, but could address some of the opposition demands for a more representative panel to write the charter, assuming the elections are not swept by Islamists.

If the referendum goes ahead, the opposition faces a new challenge -- either to campaign for a "No" vote or to boycott the process altogether. A low turnout or the charter passing by a small margin of victory would cast doubts on the constitution's legitimacy.

Meanwhile, Morsi on Sunday used the legislative powers he holds in the absence of parliament to implement tax increases on more than 50 goods, including fuel, electricity, steel, cement, and luxury items such as cigarettes and alcohol, including a 100 percent increase for beer and some other beverages, the Guardian reported. The increases are associated with economic reforms being introduced ahead of the Dec. 19 deadline for International Monetary Fund approval of a $4.8 billion loan.

Investors appeared relieved at Morsi's retraction of his decree, sending Egyptian stocks 4.4 percent higher on Sunday, Reuters reported.

The military, which led Egypt's transition for 16 turbulent months after former President Hosni Mubarak was toppled, told feuding factions Saturday that only dialogue could avert "catastrophe." But a military source said these remarks did not herald an army takeover.

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