Update: Rivals campaign on eve of referendum; Ali, Zomor speak out

Update: Rivals campaign on eve of referendum; Ali, Zomor speak out

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Fri, 21/12/2012 - 14:34

Last-minute campaigning was taking place on Thursday and Friday ahead of the final round of a referendum on a new, Islamist-backed constitution that has plunged the country into crisis.

On Thursday evening, former presidential hopeful Khaled Ali said that the draft constitution makes it easy to get around paying the minimum rate for pensions and maintaining a maximum wage rate, as the draft stipulates that the state is only committed to following those guidelines for administrative positions. It does not stipulate that those rules also apply to the president and ministers, Ali added.

During a rally organized by the Socialist Popular Alliance Party in Bagour, Monufiya, Ali called on the people to reject the draft constitution because it “does not achieve social justice.”

The constitutional referendum turned from being one of the greatest moments in the nation’s history to one of its worst, Ali said, because it has led the country into a bitter divide due to lack of consensus on the constitution.

He claimed that the draft represents the aims of the Muslim Brotherhood, not the revolution.

"The Brotherhood quest to pass the constitution in this way reflects their desire to seize power, and their application of the law of [political] isolation reflects that they do not believe in difference and the devolution of power.

“The January revolution did not occur because of the infidelity or faith of rulers, but because of their oppression," Ali said.

On the other end of the political spectrum, Jama’a al-Islamiya leader Aboud al-Zomor said the only way out of the current crisis was for political forces to agree on the ballot box as the only solution to their disagreements.

Zomor accused the opposition of seeking personal and political gains by protesting against the constitution, after they failed to achieve their aims through legitimate channels.

There is a plot underway to overthrow President Mohamed Morsy, he claimed.

"We rejected the postponement of the referendum, as we felt that the opposition figures' intentions were not good. They contributed to the development of most of the constitution articles, and when a dispute over certain articles occurred they resorted to pulling out, although they knew that Egypt needed stability. Two years have passed since the revolution succeeded, and despite that we are still looking for the sources of power," Zomor said in an interview with Kuwait's Al-Rai newspaper, published Friday.

"The constitution includes articles that allow it to be amended in the future through requests approved by MPs. The only alternative that satisfied the elite in order to achieve what they wanted was to drop the constitutional declaration.

“They moved, then, to calling on the president to postpone the referendum on the constitution, and if that demand had been achieved, they would have moved to the third demand to invalidate the constitution, as they claim now. After that they would form another Constituent Assembly to develop another constitution in six months. And I believe the same scenario would be repeated so that Morsy passes his first term of office searching for state institutions ... The referendum is the only way out of the crisis raised by the elite," said Zomor.

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 Morsy and his Islamist camp against the broad, secular-leaning opposition.

The conflict has sparked weeks of demonstrations and several violent clashes, including ones outside Morsy's presidential palace on 5 December that killed at least 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 Morsy to split the vote over a week.

And the country's chief prosecutor, Taalat Abdallah, this week said he was stepping down after protests by hundreds of prosecutors — but on Thursday retracted his resignation.

Morsy 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 US$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 Morsy 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 Morsy'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 Al-Masry Al-Youm.