9 Dec 2012

Cairo protests: opposition demands referendum cancellation

While Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi withdraws a decree granting him sweeping powers, opposition politicians say protests will not stop until he abandons plans for a draft constitutional referendum.

President Mohamed Mursi rescinded a 22 November decree that gave him near unrestricted powers but he is going ahead with the referendum on a constitution adopted by his Islamist allies, prompting opposition politicians to call for more protests.

The president’s Islamist supporters insist the referendum should go ahead because it is needed to complete a democratic transition still incomplete after Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow 22 months ago.

Opposition boycott

The opposition National Salvation Front called on supporters to rally against the referendum, however, calling the decision to press ahead “shocking”. Protesters have drawn murals on the wall of the presidential palace in Cairo (see photo above) to express their dismay.

The announcement that Mursi had scrapped his decree followed talks on Saturday at his presidential palace. The meeting was boycotted by his main rivals and had little credibility among protesters.

The 6 April movement, which helped galvanise street protests against Mubarak, said in a statement about the outcome of Saturday’s talks: “What happened is manipulation and a continuation of deception in the name of law and legitimacy.”

The constitution was fast-tracked through an assembly led by Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists. Liberals and others walked out, saying their voices were not being heard.

Constitutional wrangling

“A constitution without consensus cannot go to a referendum,” protester Hermes Fawzi told Reuters. “It’s not logical that just one part of society makes the constitution.”

The military, which led Egypt through a turbulent interim period after Mubarak fell, stepped into the crisis on Saturday to tell feuding factions that dialogue was essential to avoid “catastrophe.”

Mohamed Selim al-Awa, a government spokesman, told a news conference on Saturday evening that the constitutional referendum would go ahead as there were legal obstacles to a delay.

The turmoil has exposed the rifts between Islamists, suppressed for decades, and rivals, who fear religious conservatives want to squeeze out other voices and restrict social freedoms.

Each have drawn tens of thousands of supporters to the streets in rival rallies since the 22 November decree.

The National Salvation Front, whose members include Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed El Baradei and former foreign minister Amr Moussa did not attend Saturday’s talks.