Tensions high ahead of Egypt referendum

Fri, Dec 14, 2012, 00:00

Egyptian secular and fundamentalist rivals yesterday made last-ditch attempts to sway voters 48 hours before they are set to give their verdict on a constitution that has polarised the country.

“Say No to the constitution that divides Egypt!” stated an opposition newspaper advertisement. “Say Yes to the constitution. Say Yes to stability,” commanded a billboard erected at a main bridge over the Nile.

As tensions built, Egyptian opposition figure Ahmed Said warned of violence if the referendum went ahead in staged voting tomorrow and next Saturday.

“I believe there will be blood and a lot of antagonism,” said Mr Said of the main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, which contends the draft document does not protect the rights of minorities and women or freedom of expression.

At least 10 people were killed and 700 injured last week in clashes that flared outside the presidential palace.

Observers

Most Egyptian judges have refused to supervise the referendum, as stipulated by law, undermining its legitimacy, and monitors belonging to former US president Jimmy Carter’s organisation will not be deployed due to the government’s failure to release regulations for observers.

However, Ghada Shahbender of the independent Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights said 13 local bodies planned to oversee the referendum.

The governmental National Human Rights Council has been appointed official monitor, although it is headed by Hossam El-Gheriany, president of the body that drafted the constitution.

Activists beaten

Ms Shahbender said the vote would go ahead in spite of the “requirement that it must take place in a free and secure environment.

The constitutional court is under siege and the media city that hosts most satellite television channels is surrounded” by ultra-orthodox Salafis.

Members of the media and press are being openly threatened by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies which have “kidnapped and tortured people and handed them over to the police”, she said.

Opposition activists described beatings and other abuses to which they were subjected at a press conference as journalist El-Hosseini Abu-Deif, the latest fatality, was mourned by colleagues. Human Rights Watch has called for an investigation.

Women’s rights activist Mozn Hassan said the referendum “is not really about the constitution itself. We can negotiate over the constitution.” The referendum is the “last card [held by] the Muslim Brotherhood to demonstrate its legitimacy” by winning the votes of 50 per cent of the people. Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, head of Al-Azhar University, ruled that participation in the poll was a “religious duty,” without directing Egyptians how to vote.