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Egypt braces for referendum

world Updated: Dec 02, 2012 00:50 IST
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Egyptian Islamists are holding rallies in support of President Mohammed Morsi ahead of his expected ratification of a new post-revolutionary constitution that opponents fear is too based in sharia law and does not adequately protect human rights.

The demonstrations in Cairo and across the country come after days of rival protests by supporters and opponents of Morsi, who is expected to call a quickfire referendum on Saturday on the new draft constitution in order to hurry it through before Egypt's supreme constitutional court can dissolve the assembly that drafted it.

The draft has been criticised for its ambiguous language on civil liberties, women's and minority rights and freedom of expression, as well as its concentration on enshrining sharia law as the basis for legislation. It also protects army privileges that Morsi's opponents want revoked, including the ability to try civilians in military courts.



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On Friday, tens of thousands of protesters once again descended on Tahrir Square calling for Morsi to resign and vowing to stop the constitution. “The people want to bring down the regime,” they chanted, echoing the slogan that rang out there less than two years ago during the protests that brought down Hosni Mubarak. Rival demonstrators threw stones after dark in Alexandria and the Nile delta town of Al-Mahalla Al-Kobra.

“All indications point to the president calling for a referendum on Saturday after he officially receives and ratifies the draft constitution,” said Sameh El-Essawia, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party. “There is a rush because you can't leave the country like this and wait for a politicised verdict from the supreme constitutional court.”

The Muslim Brotherhood fears the court will dissolve the Islamist-dominated assembly that created the constitution when it meets on Sunday. By law, once Morsi calls for the referendum, the assembly's dissolution becomes a moot point.

Egypt has been plunged into a constitutional crisis since a self-issued decree by Morsi on 22 November gave him sweeping powers and immunity from judicial challenges. The decree also granted the constituent assembly immunity from legal challenges, which were already under way and expected to be decided in December.

(The Guardian)