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Middle East

Egypt opposition rejects planned referendum

Major opposition bloc says President Morsi's decision to rescind controversial decree "falls short of expectations".
Last Modified: 09 Dec 2012 23:03
A banner outside the presidential palace reads, "the people demand the downfall of the regime" [Reuters]

A major Egyptian opposition group has said that President Mohamed Morsi's decision only to rescind a decree that gave him sweeping powers and not scrap a referendum on a controversial draft constitution has "fallen short of expectations" required to defuse tensions in the country.

In an announcement on Sunday, the National Salvation Front, the main umbrella group for opposition parties, said it rejected the planned December 15 referendum, and said holding the referendum in such an atmosphere would lead to more strife.

The front said Morsi and the regime are "gambling by driving the country toward more violent clashes that are dangerous for its national security".

"We do not recognise the draft constitution because it does not represent the Egyptian people," said Sameh Ashour, who spoke on behalf of the coalition.

Live footage: Egypt's army has started strengthening
a protective wall around Morsi's presidential palace

The opposition is planning large rallies on Tuesday to protest the decree. Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood are also organising their own rallies on Tuesday in Cairo, Alexandria and Assiut.

Late on Saturday Morsi annulled the November 22 decree that also made all his decisions immune to judicial review, but insisted that the vote will go ahead as planned.

The opposition has repeatedly said that the constitution, drafted by a Muslim Brotherhood-led constituent assembly, disregards the rights of women and ignores personal freedoms.

"I cannot imagine that after all this they want to pass a constitution that does not represent all Egyptians," Ahmed Said, another member of the National Salvation Front coalition and the head of the liberal Free Egyptians Party, told Reuters news agency.

Selim al-Awa, an official who attended Saturday's meeting between Morsi and politicians from smaller opposition groups, said that, legally, Morsi was unable to change the date of the referendum on the draft charter.

He said  that if the draft was voted down in the December 15 referendum, Morsi would call for an election within three months to pick a new constituent assembly.

The main opposition groups had boycotted the talks, which lasted over 10 hours, and called on their supporters to step up protests. 

Ashour was among those calling on Egyptians to protest on Tuesday to refuse the constitution.

"The National Salvation Front announces its total rejection of the referendum and will not legitimise this referendum which will definitely lead to more strife," he said.

"The Front invites Egypt's great people to protest peacefully in various liberation squares in the capital this coming Tuesday to show dissatisfaction at the president's disregard of the people's demands and in refusal of the constitution that infringes on rights and freedoms."

Annulment 'meaningless'

Khaled Dawood, spokesperson for the National Salvation Front, said annulling the decree was "relatively meaningless".

"The key issue of securing the process of adopting of the constitution is done," he told Al Jazeera.

Harvard associate professor Tarek Masoud tells Al Jazeera
that the opposition's refusal of dialogue was an "error"

Asked whether the opposition's goal was to unseat Morsi, Dawood said: "This is definitely not in our agenda at all. Our agenda is basically limited to having a new draft constitution that everybody is satisfied about before going to a referendum.

"We respect he was elected with 51.7 per cent of the vote, but 48 per cent did not vote for him.

"That means that he has to compromise, he has to build consensus."

On Sunday, a day after Morsi appeared to bow to political and public pressure, a wall was built around his presidential palace.

The barricade blocks any attempt by anti-government protesters from reaching the palace gates.

Egypt has been hit by angry protests in the past two weeks to push Morsi to reverse his expanded powers and suspend the constitutional vote.

The crisis has been the country's worst since Morsi took office in June.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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