Po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By AGEN­CIES in Cairo and Bei­jing

A key ref­er­en­dum on Egypt’s amended Con­sti­tu­tion will be held next month.

A key ref­er­en­dum on Egypt’s amended Con­sti­tu­tion will be held next month, the in­terim pres­i­dent said on Satur­day, call­ing on cit­i­zens to vote “yes” for a doc­u­ment that will be a ma­jor test for the coun­try’s mil­i­tary­backed gov­ern­ment and po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion plan.

Adly Man­sour said the vote, set for Jan 14 and 15, would be a first step to­ward build­ing a mod­ern demo­cratic state.

“The doc­u­ment in our hands to­day is a text that should make ev­ery Egyp­tian proud, and (is) the cor­rect start­ing point for build­ing the in­sti­tu­tions of the mod­ern demo­cratic state that we all as­pire to,’’ he said to an au­di­ence of gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, mem­bers of the panel that drafted the con­sti­tu­tion, and rel­a­tives of vic­tims of Egypt’s past three years of un­rest.

The amended draft con­sti­tu­tion, fi­nal­ized ear­lier in De­cem­ber by a 50- mem­ber panel that Man­sour ap­pointed, is a key step in the po­lit­i­cal road map ac­ti­vated by the mil­i­tary af­ter it re­moved Is­lamist pres­i­dent Mo­hammed Morsi from power in July.

It re­places the Con­sti­tu­tion drafted by an Is­lamist-led panel, ap­proved in a ref­er­en­dum last year, and sus­pended af­ter Morsi’s ouster.

The Is­lamist-drafted char­ter had gal­va­nized op­po­si­tion against Morsi, amid a last minute walk­out from the sec­u­lar and Chris­tian mem­bers of the 100-panel mem­ber, ap­pointed then by the Is­lamist-dom­i­nated par­lia­ment. Op­po­nents were protest­ing the char­ter be­cause they said it had an Is­lamist slant, giv­ing re­li­gious in­ter­pre­ta­tions a greater role in leg­is­la­tion and tram­pling on rights and free­doms.

De­spite a 63 per­cent ap­proval, turnout was low — a lit­tle more than 30 per­cent — and many of Morsi’s op­po­nents used the dis­puted Con­sti­tu­tion as a ral­ly­ing point to cam­paign against him.

State tele­vi­sion has al­ready launched a cam­paign call­ing on Egyp­tians to vote yes in the ref­er­en­dum. Bill­boards are up around Cairo, urg­ing vot­ers to take part in the ref­er­en­dum as a sign of sup­port for post-Morsi ar­range­ments.

“Af­ter we wasted a long time, that passed slowly, heav­ily and harshly on many of Egypt’s poor, it is time we com­plete our rev­o­lu­tion and re­build this na­tion to re­al­ize the pop­u­lar as­pi­ra­tions and am­bi­tions,’’ Man­sour said in a tele­vised speech.

Egypt’s for­eign min­is­ter Na­bil Fahmy ar­rived in Bei­jing on Satur­day and was ex­pected to meet se­nior Chi­nese of­fi­cials on Mon­day. On Fri­day, China re­duced the level of its warn­ings to Chi­nese na­tion­als trav­el­ing to Egypt.

Morsi sup­port­ers, largely Is­lamist groups led by the Mus­lim Brother­hood, have held near daily protests call­ing for Morsi’s re­in­state­ment and a re­turn to the 2012 con­sti­tu­tion. It is likely that they will boy­cott the up­com­ing ref­er­en­dum, al­though a for­mal an­nounce­ment is ex­pected this week.

“We are head­ing to­ward a boy­cott cam­paign,’’ said Is­lam Taw­fiq, a mem­ber of the Mus­lim Brother­hood’s po­lit­i­cal party. “Par­tic­i­pat­ing in the ref­er­en­dum, even with a no vote, would be an im­plicit recog­ni­tion of the le­git­i­macy of the (mil­i­tary­backed) road map.’’

Some Is­lamists how­ever are ral­ly­ing be­hind the new ref­er­en­dum. The ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive Salafist Al-Nour party, the only Is­lamist party who took part in the draft­ing process, is cam­paign­ing for a yes vote, invit­ing harsh crit­i­cism from Morsi al­lies — some of whom por­tray the new doc­u­ment as anti-Is­lamic.

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