Opposition in Egypt opposes referendum
Egypt’s secular opposition the National Salvation Front yesterday declared that holding a constitutional referendum during the current climate of intimidation and violence could plunge the country into further chaos and crisis.
The Front, which is an umbrella group for opposition groups, rejected a concession made by fundamentalist president Mohamed Morsi and vowed to maintain popular pressure against his policies.
Late on Saturday, Mr Morsi partially met one opposition demand by cancelling his November 22nd decree giving himself sweeping powers but not the other which set December 15th as the date for a referendum on the contested constitution drafted by the fundamentalist-dominated constituent assembly.
Front spokesman Khaled Dawood argued that rescinding the decree was “meaningless” because Mr Morsi had attained his key objective by preventing the supreme court from dissolving the constituent assembly. This would have nullified the draft constitution and led to elections to a more representative body.
The draft document was adopted hurriedly after Christian and secular members of the assembly had withdrawn in protest over articles granting Muslim clerics the right to interpret legislation, permitting the state to define morals, and enshrining the powers and privileges of the military while failing to ensure gender equality and personal free- doms.
Mr Morsi announced his decisions at the end of a gathering designated as a national dialogue conference although it was attended by only a few representatives of small opposition factions.
Both the Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition have been sharply criticised by civil society organisations for lacking clear agendas and opting for confrontation.
Mr Morsi initially suggested postponing the referendum but then cancelled his decree and threatened to authorise the military to arrest civilians, a power restricted to the police.
Mr Dawood insisted that the opposition did not seek to remove Mr Morsi. “Our agenda is basically limited to having a new draft constitution that satisfies everybody before being put to referendum. He said Mr Morsi, who was elected by 51.7 per cent of the voters, “has to build consensus”.
However, in the streets, thousands of opposition demonstrators have challenged Mr Morsi’s legitimacy and called for his removal. Their chant is,“Leave, leave!” Last week eight people died, seven from the opposition camp.
The impasse and the possibility of fresh violence prompted the military to build a wall around the palace and to warn of “disastrous consequences” if the crisis was not resolved through dialogue.
Dina Samak, of the English-language news website Ahram Online, said Egyptians were angry at both sides. The Brotherhood is castigated for giving priority to consolidating its political primacy while failing to deliver on pledges to tackle practical problems. The opposition is condemned for its lack of unity and strategy for the transition from authoritarian to democratic rule.
Ms Samak and other commentators consulted by The Irish Times believe the referendum will go ahead on schedule.
She said: “Morsi will be the winner” whatever the result. If the draft constitution is adopted, there will be parliamentary elections early next year and the fundamentalists are likely to win many seats. If the constitution is not approved, Mr Morsi will be left with both executive and legislative powers until a new constituent assembly is chosen.