Opposition urges No vote in Egyptian poll

Thu, Dec 13, 2012, 00:00

The main Egyptian opposition coalition yesterday urged followers to vote against the disputed draft constitution in Saturday’s referendum, sharpening the rift between the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and secular adversaries.

The National Salvation Front, grouping liberal and leftist parties, formally called on supporters to “vote no”, announced Hamdeen Sabahi, a former presidential candidate. Speaking on behalf of the coalition, he said the referendum should take place in a single day, be closely supervised by the judiciary and observed by neutral monitors.

The front also called for polling stations to be secured by security forces and results to be announced at the end of the day. If these conditions are not met, Mr Sabahi said the front would promote a boycott.

The front argues that the proposed constitution, drafted by a fundamentalist-dominated body, does not reflect the aspirations of the people or address their economic and social needs and fails to guarantee the rights of women and minorities.

Several other opposition groups have already started campaigning for a No vote, including the April 6th youth movement and the Strong Egypt party founded by defected Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Abouel Fatouh.

Cancellation or postponement of the referendum was never an option for the brotherhood. President Mohamed Morsi, whose roots are in the movement, has decreed that the referendum will be held on December 15th and 22nd, instead of the first day alone. The influential judges’ club has refused to supervise the poll – to be legal, the referendum should be supervised by the judiciary.

Over coffee at Cairo’s Groppi cafe, revolutionary film-maker and activist Amal Ramsis told The Irish Times that the Front was following “the lead of the street in this crisis”. Front leaders know that they must not “disappoint people as they will lose the street” .

The front announced its decisions after defence minister and army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi postponed a proposed national dialogue gathering of figures from the fundamentalist and secular camps due to a lack of interest.

Military role

The military has warned against a repeat of clashes that killed nine and wounded 700 on December 5th and called for talks to resolve the three-week crisis, sparked when Mr Morsi granted himself sweeping powers. Although the generals are neutral over the referendum, both camps suspect they want to use it to regain political leverage.

Liberal analyst Youssef Zaki said the brotherhood would “win the battle for the constitution, elect a new parliament, and rule” for some time. But it would, eventually, lose power because the movement “does not have a vision or a programme” which would meet popular demands.