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Africa

Egypt divided ahead of constitution referendum

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-12-14

Opposition groups in Egypt fear that a “yes” vote in Saturday’s constitution referendum will weaken human rights and usher in sharia-type Islamic laws, while supporters say it is the only way to end political uncertainty in the divided country.

Egyptians go to the polls Saturday to vote on whether to adopt a new constitution that is backed by the country’s Islamists, headed by President Mohammed Morsi, while the opposition is split between those calling for a ‘No’ vote and those urging an outright boycott.

The referendum will be split over two days, with a second round on Saturday December 22, because so many of Egypt’s judges have refused to supervise the poll in protest.

Liberal and secular opponents fear that a “Yes vote” will usher in sharia-type laws in a constitution they feel is too vaguely-worded and will weaken human rights, the rights of women and the independence of the judiciary.

The opposition umbrella group, the National Salvation Front, is urging a "no" vote.

"It's you who will pay the price if you vote yes. No to the constitution," said an online campaign advertisement by an opposition group called April 6.

Supporters of the referendum, meanwhile, have released videos claiming that “this constitution is not too bad; it has been written by a committee of heroes.”

Analysts split on outcome

Analysts are split on the possible outcome of the referendum, although the unity of the Muslim Brotherhood, which backs the proposed constitution, may give it the advantage over the disparate opposition movements.

In central Cairo, a crisis centre has been set up to try to bring these disparate groups together. “We’re trying to coordinate the work on the ground, from distributing leaflets to door-to-door campaigns,” said Hanna Aboulghar of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.

Nearby at the Misr [Egyptian] International University, students distributed leaflets focussing on the more controversial articles in the proposed constitution. They are confident that the majority of Egyptian voters will reject it.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is not going to win this mobilisation game because we have proved ourselves as revolutionaries during the presidential palace protests,” student Mena Alaa told FRANCE 24. “We are many, we could be two million, three million, six million, ten million taking to the streets.”

Voters in the biggest cities of Cairo and Alexandria and eight other governorates will cast their ballots on Saturday. A week later, on December 22, the other half of the country will go to the polls.

The powerful army, which is maintaining a neutral role, has been given powers of arrest until the referendum results are released to help police maintain order.

A total of 130,000 police and 120,000 soldiers will be deployed on Saturday to provide security, interior ministry and military officials told AFP.

Date created : 2012-12-14

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