Islamists asked to vote in Egypt constitution poll

AP News
Posted: Dec 15, 2013 11:36 AM
Islamists asked to vote in Egypt constitution poll

CAIRO (AP) — The chairman of a 50-member panel that drafted a new constitution for Egypt called Sunday on supporters of the country's ousted Islamist president to participate in next month's referendum on the charter, but he also warned that Egyptians have grown angry with their street protests and would move to end them.

"The constitution is for all Egyptians. There is no exclusion of any individual or group," Amr Moussa told a news conference. Mohammed Morsi's supporters "have to show the desire to join the Egyptians in their march ... they must show they are part of this nation and cooperate in taking Egypt out of this chaotic situation."

The new constitution is a significantly amended version of one that was adopted by a predominantly Islamist panel last year. The adoption of the new charter is the first step in a political road map announced in July by Egypt's military chief when he removed Morsi in a popularly backed military coup.

Morsi's supporters have been staging near-daily protests since his ouster, concentrated at universities of late. They often end in violence, with police using tear gas, water cannons and birdshot to disperse demonstrators. Occasionally, security forces storm campuses and students' dormitories to capture people suspected of attacking them with rocks and firebombs.

"Violence will not solve the problems, it will complicate them. ... We need calm and a quiet and candid movement toward the future," said Moussa, a longtime foreign minister and secretary-general of the Arab League.

Addressing Morsi's supporters without naming them, he said Egyptians were fed up with the violence and disruption of normal life caused by the protests in Cairo and across a string of major cities. "I don't think this will be allowed to continue because society is in a state of anger because of the disruption they cause.

"They are acting against the interests of society."

Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood has yet to announce whether it will call on its supporters to boycott the Jan. 14-15 vote or rally for a "no" vote. However, it has repeatedly stated that removing Morsi was illegitimate, together with all steps taken since.

The military-backed government is not taking any chances and Moussa re-affirmed that there would be no going back on the road map, which envisages parliamentary and presidential polls by the summer of 2014.

"We will press on along this road and with resolve and determination," said Moussa.

The country's official news agency, meanwhile, reported Sunday that as many as 200,000 members of the security forces will be assigned to protect polling stations nationwide. It said they will include "combat teams" and reserve forces. Beside the polling stations, it said, they will protect key installations.

The government installed by the military in the wake of Morsi's ouster needs a big "yes" majority in the referendum to use as evidence that the removal of the longtime Muslim Brotherhood leader continues to enjoy the support of most Egyptians. The referendum will also be tantamount to a vote of confidence on the military chief, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who has not ruled out a presidential run and whose popularity is soaring.

The preparations for the referendum are taking place as a massive crackdown on Morsi's Brotherhood and its Islamist allies continues unabated. Already, hundreds have been killed by security forces and several thousands, including the group's top leaders, are in detention. Morsi himself is on trial on charges of inciting murder. The proceedings resume next month after a two-month recess.

However, the liberal and secular alliance that campaigned for Morsi's removal with mass street protests in June and early July has been showing signs of cracks recently, with key "revolutionary" youth groups saying that liberties and freedoms have regressed since Morsi's ouster and police brutality has been reminiscent of the days of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Further poisoning the atmosphere, three icons of these groups — Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Ahmed Douma and Ahmed Maher — are in detention for violating a controversial law recently passed placing draconian restrictions on public demonstrations.

Ironically, the draft constitution offers unprecedented guarantees for freedoms.

It states that men and women have equal rights and that the state must ensure "appropriate" representation of women in public jobs and the judiciary. It also criminalizes torture, discrimination and inciting hatred. It asks the next parliament to adopt a law that would lift longtime restrictions on the construction and restoration of churches, thus allowing Christians — about 10 percent of Egypt's estimated 90 million people — to build and restore their places of worship.

It also stipulates that local councils have quotas for youths, women, farmers and workers as well as "suitable" representation for Egyptians with special needs as well as minority Christians.

However, critics have complained that the charter allows the trial of civilians before military tribunals and gives the armed forces the exclusive right of selecting the defense minister for two presidential terms starting from the next election. Moussa defends these privileges as necessary to counter threats the military faces.

Militants in the northern Sinai Peninsula, some linked to al-Qaida, have waged an insurgency against the army and police there since Morsi's ouster. There have also been a series of al-Qaida attacks and suicide bombings elsewhere in Egypt, including Cairo.