Opposition urges supporters to vote, not boycott

CAIRO: The main opposition to President Mohammed Mursi has urged voters to reject the new constitution in a referendum rather than boycotting it.

But Hamdeen Sabahi, who finished third in the presidential vote earlier this year, said the National Salvation Front, the biggest opposition umbrella group, would urge supporters to take part and cast "no" ballots only if the vote was held on a single day and security and judicial supervision were adequate. The Front said in a statement that "we will withdraw our participation and will urge the people to do the same" if those guarantees were not provided.

"People have a real chance to bring down the constitution through the ballot box," Mr Sabahi told reporters in Cairo, though he said the Front's preferred solution was to postpone the referendum for two months.

Egyptian expatriates have already begun voting in the referendum. Egyptian embassies were opened for voters who can cast ballots in person or by mail until December 15, when the first phase of the domestic vote is due to be held, with a second one due on December 22, the official Middle East News Agency said.

"Whatever it takes, Mursi and the [Muslim] Brotherhood are going to find a way to hold the referendum," said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. "The Muslim Brotherhood's strategy now is to dig in until referendum day, and they feel that they will be vindicated by the results."

The decision to hold the referendum on successive Saturdays may lead some opposition groups to boycott it.


The vote would be held on different days in different parts of the country to make supervision easier, the state-run Ahram Gate reported earlier. Most judges wouldn't supervise the referendum, the head of the Judges Club, Ahmed El- Zind, told reporters in Cairo. The draft charter falls short on "human rights and freedoms," he said.

The opposition argues that the constitution was drafted by a panel dominated by Islamists that ignored other views and produced a text that fails to safeguard rights and freedoms. The head of that panel, Hossam el-Gheriani, urged Egyptians to turn out and vote.

"It's time for every citizen to express their view," he said on state television. "Accept the result of the referendum, whatever it may be, and let democracy work."

A reporter for the local newspaper al-Fagr, El-Husseiny Abu Deif, died on Wednesday from injuries sustained after he was shot in the head while covering clashes outside the presidential palace last week, the al-Shorouk news website reported.

Reports Without Borders said Dr Mursi’s supporters had fired on journalists on December 6. Human Rights Watch called on Egypt’s prosecutors to investigate reports that Muslim Brotherhood members illegally detained and abused protesters.

The Brotherhood says its rallies have been peaceful and has blamed the violence on ‘‘thugs’’ and supporters of the Mubarak regime.

People have a real chance to bring down the constitution through the ballot box.

Hamdeen Sabahi