Egypt’s main opposition alliance has called for a “No” vote in the referendum on a disputed constitution rather than a boycott.
The call came just hours after Islamist president Mohammed Morsi forged ahead by starting overseas voting in diplomatic missions for expatriates.
The opposition said it still may boycott the vote in Egypt on Saturday if its conditions are not met.
Hamdeen Sabahi, a leader of the opposition National Salvation Front, said the alliance would urge its supporters to boycott if judges do not oversee the vote and the state does not provide security at the polls. Egypt’s major judges’ body said on Tuesday it would boycott the referendum, abstaining from its role overseeing the polls.
“The Front decided to call upon the people to go to the polling stations and reject the draft by saying ‘No,”’ said Mr Sabahi, a left-wing politician who finished third in the June presidential election won by Mr Morsi. “The people will rally at the polls and have a chance to topple the constitution by saying ‘No,”’ he stated.
The Islamist-controlled constitution drafting committee rushed through the document in a marathon session last month. Islamists say its approval will restore political stability and allow the rebuilding of the institutions of government. They say it contains new articles banning many of the human rights abuses commonplace under Hosni Mubarak, whose 29-year rule was ended by a popular uprising nearly two years ago.
Liberals, secularists, Christians, and other critics say the draft is full of obscure clauses that could give clerics a say over civil rights and would herald the introduction of Sharia law. They say the 100-member drafting body was packed with Islamists and ultra-conservatives who ignored other groups’ concerns.
The opposition has been considering several options to force Mr Morsi to postpone the vote.
Ahmed Khairi, for the liberal Free Egyptians party – part of the National Salvation Front –which backed a boycott, said: “As long as everybody agreed on going for ‘No,’ we changed our position.” Other options, such as rallies and civil disobedience, remain on the table. “The constitution is a decisive battle but not the final one. We will keep on fighting for Egypt,” he added.