Egypt poised for protest as Morsi refuses to delay vote

Egyptian army soldiers stand gurad in front of the presidential palace in Cairo. Picture: AP
Egyptian army soldiers stand gurad in front of the presidential palace in Cairo. Picture: AP
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A CONCESSION offered by president Mohamed Morsi has failed to placate opponents who accused him of plunging Egypt deeper into crisis by refusing to postpone a vote on a constitution shaped by Islamists.

Islamists say they see the referendum as sealing a democratic transition that began when a popular uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak 22 months ago after three decades of military-backed one-man rule.

Their liberal, leftist and Christian adversaries say the document being fast-tracked to a vote could threaten freedoms and fails to embrace the diversity of Egypt’s 83 million people.

More protests are planned near Morsi’s palace, despite tanks, barbed wire and other barriers installed last week after clashes between Islamists and their rivals killed seven people.

Morsi had given some ground when he retracted a fiercely contested decree giving himself extra powers and shielding his decisions from judicial review.

But the president insisted the constitutional referendum will go ahead next Saturday and the Muslim Brotherhood, from which he sprang, urged the opposition to accept the poll’s verdict.

Ahmed Said, a liberal leader of the main opposition National Salvation Front, yesterday described the race to a referendum as “shocking” and an “act of war” against Egyptians.

Egypt is torn between Islamists, who were suppressed for decades, and their rivals, who fear religious conservatives want to squeeze out other voices and restrict social freedoms. Many Egyptians just crave stability and economic recovery.

Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan said the scrapping of Morsi’s decree had removed any reason for controversy, asking on the group’s Facebook page whether the opposition would accept “the basics of democracy”.

The retraction of Morsi’s 22 November decree, announced around midnight on Saturday after a “national dialogue” boycotted by almost all the president’s critics, has not bridged a deep political divide.

Prime minister Hisham Kandil, a technocrat with Islamist leanings, said the referendum was the best test of opinion.

“The people are the makers of the future as long as they have the freedom to resort to the ballot box in a democratic, free and fair vote,” he said in a cabinet statement.

But opposition factions, uncertain of their ability to vote down the constitution against the Islamists’ organisational muscle, want the document redrafted before any vote.

“A constitution without consensus can’t go to a referendum,” said Hermes Fawzi, 28, a protester outside the palace yesterday. “It’s not logical that one part of society makes the constitution.”

Egypt tipped into turmoil after Morsi grabbed powers to stop any court action aimed at hindering the transition. An assembly led by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists then swiftly approved the constitution it had drafted.

A leftist group led by defeated presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahy demanded the referendum be deferred until a consensus could be reached on a new draft, saying there could be “no dialogue while blood is being spilled in the streets”.