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Rivals campaign on eve of Egypt referendum

Published: December 21, 2012 | 11:25 am
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CAIRO — Last-minute campaigning was taking place in Egypt on Friday ahead of the final round of a referendum on a new, Islamist-backed constitution that has plunged the country into crisis.
The draft charter is expected to be adopted in Saturday’s plebiscite, following a first-round last weekend that showed 57 percent support, according to unofficial tallies.
But analysts warned the vote would not put a halt to the month-long crisis pitting President Mohamed Morsi and his Islamist camp against the broad, secular-leaning opposition.
The conflict has sparked weeks of demonstrations and several violent clashes, including ones outside Morsi’s presidential palace on December 5 that killed eight people and wounded hundreds.
Egypt’s powerful military has deployed tanks around the palace and provided 120,000 troops to help maintain security during the referendum, but it is trying to stay above the fray.
The judicial situation around and beyond the vote has also become clouded.
Many judges are refusing to oversee the referendum, prompting Morsi to split the vote over a week.
And the country’s chief prosecutor, Taalat Ibrahim Abdallah, this week said he was stepping down after protests by hundreds of prosecutors — but on Thursday retracted his resignation.
Morsi had appointed Abdallah a month ago in one of his first decisions after giving himself near-absolute powers, a move that triggered the protests and united a previously disparate opposition.
The unrest forced the president to rescind the decree, but he kept Abdallah in his post.
Economically, the crisis has knocked the legs out from under Egypt, which is winded since the early 2011 revolution that ousted the 30-year autocratic regime of Hosni Mubarak.
The International Monetary Fund has put on hold a $4.8 billion loan Egypt needs to stave off a currency collapse.
Germany has indefinitely postponed a plan to forgive $316 million of Egypt’s debt, after Development Minister Dirk Niebel reportedly said “there is the danger that the dictatorial system of ousted president Mubarak is returning.”
The head of the National Salvation Front opposition coalition, former UN atomic energy agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, warned in an online video posted overnight that “currently, the country is on the verge of bankruptcy.”
He said “a solution is still possible,” as long as Morsi was prepared for “sincere dialogue” and allowed a whole new constitution to be drafted through a more inclusive process.
Supporters of both sides have taken to the streets to sway voters to their side of the debate.
In Giza, a southwestern Cairo district that will vote on Saturday, an opposition campaign volunteer who give his first name as Maher said he pointed out to passersby “who remains committed to the revolution and who betrayed it” — implying that Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood had let down the country.
A pro-constitution campaigner in the same area, Abdallah Hassan, said his counter pitch was to inform people of “the benefits that will come out of this constitution by voting ‘yes’,” principally stability after so many months of turmoil.
Campaigning was to step up later Friday, after traditional weekly Muslim prayers.
Observers said that even if the draft charter was adopted as expected the political confrontation would drag on.
“Everything suggests the vote will go the way the Muslim Brotherhood wants…. But the misleading conclusion it will take away is that there is an overwhelming victory allowing it to continue on its chosen path,” Hassan Nafaa, an analyst and commentator, said in the newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm.

Copyright © 2012 AFP.

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