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.’

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By Hamza Hen­dawi PHO­TOS by HAS­SAN am­mar / ap Haitham sherdi, Graf­fiti in front of the pres­i­den­tial palace in Cairo reads, ‘For­get the past rev­o­lu­tion.’ Pres­i­dent Mo­hammed Morsi’s camp says a yes vote on the ref­er­en­dum is say­ing yes to Is­lam.

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.

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