Both sides campaign prior to vote
Vote turns into choice on whether nation takes step toward theocratic rule. ‘This constitution is supposed to protect the rights of the minorities, but it is written by the majority for the majority.’
CAIRO — Two days before a constitutional referendum it considered boycotting, Egypt’s secular opposition finally launched its “no” campaign Thursday with newspaper and TV ads detailing the argument against the charter drafted by Islamist supporters of President Mohammed Morsi.
The Morsi camp has a simpler message: A “yes” to the constitution is a yes to Islam.
The deadly violence and harsh divisions of recent weeks — combined with the inability of most Egyptians to even comprehend the densely written 63-page document — have turned the vote into a stark choice on whether the largest Arab nation takes a serious step toward theocratic rule.
“This constitution is supposed to protect the rights of the minorities, but it is written by the majority for the majority,” said Haitham Sherdi, a young opposition supporter from Cairo.
“If it passes, it will be used to crush the minority until they vanish,” he added, referring to Egypt’s Christian community.
Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists have been plastering posters across much of the country urging Egyptians to vote “yes to protecting (Islamic) Sharia (laws).”
The opposition’s campaign on TV, in newspapers and in fliers is focused on the slogan “A constitution to divide Egypt.” Activists also took to the streets with loudspeakers atop trucks touring Cairo and other cities.
The opposition campaign began a day after the National Salvation Front — an umbrella group of opposition parties — announced it was calling on supporters to vote no rather than boycott the referendum. The delay reflected divisions within the alliance.
Reform leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, who was among those initially favoring a boycott, made an emotional appeal to Morsi on Thursday to postpone the vote, warning of “the specter of civil war.” He called on his supporters to vote no if the referendum goes
opposition supporter from Cairo ahead as scheduled.
Jehad el-Haddad, a spokesman for the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party, said it will accept the referendum result regardless of the outcome, but added: “We want to have a constitution in place because it’s a pillar of a functioning state. The fact that it is lacking encourages a lot of people to resort to undemocratic means.”
In many ways, the pros and cons of the draft constitution have been overshadowed by the worst crisis to hit Egypt since the overthrow nearly two years ago of Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime.
With killings and mass street protests defining the past three weeks, newspaper and TV commentators have warned of a country moving toward civil strife and a schism that may not be bridged.
A comfortable win would significantly strengthen the Islamists’ hand and embolden them to push ahead with their agenda of turning Egypt into an Islamic state, something that may prolong the standoff and raise the specter of more and widespread violence.
On Thursday, 20 Egyptian rights groups issued a joint statement warning of possible election fraud and expressing concerns that a state-run human rights council has taken charge of issuing monitoring permits, which in the past were obtained directly from the elections committee.
The council is headed by Judge Hossam el-Ghariyani, also the head of the controversial constitutional drafting panel.
Meanwhile, the Carter Center, the main international group monitoring earlier Egyptian votes, said it would not deploy monitors because of the government’s late release of monitoring regulations. The absence of the center increases the likelihood that the rushed process could undermine the constitution’s legitimacy if it passes.