Egypt's opposition to protest draft constitution

Main opposition coalition, National Salvation Front, cite voting violations in referendum; calls for re-count, mass protest.

Egyptians vote in referendum 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Egyptians vote in referendum 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
CAIRO - Egypt's opposition will hold new protests on Tuesday against an Islamist-backed draft constitution that has divided the nation but which looks set to be approved in the second round of a referendum next weekend.
Islamist President Mohamed Morsi obtained a 57 percent "yes" vote for the constitution in a first round of the referendum on Saturday, state media said, less than he had hoped for.
The result is likely to embolden the opposition, which says the law is too Islamist. But they are unlikely to win this Saturday's second round, to be held in districts seen as even more sympathetic towards Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.
Protesters broke out into cheers when the public prosecutor Morsi appointed last month announced his resignation late on Monday. Further signs of opposition emerged when a judges' club urged its members not to supervise Saturday's vote. But the call is not binding on members and balloting is expected to go ahead.
If the constitution passes next weekend, national elections can take place early next year, something many hope will help end the turmoil that has gripped Egypt since the fall of Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago.
The main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, said there were widespread voting violations in the first round of the referendum and urged organizers to ensure that the second round was properly supervised.
It has called for protests across Egypt on Tuesday "to stop forgery and bring down the invalid draft constitution" and wants organizers to re-run the first round of voting.
The Ministry of Justice said it was appointing a group of judges to investigate allegations of voting irregularities around the country.
In Cairo, the Front planned to hold demonstrations at Tahrir Square, cradle of the revolution that toppled Mubarak, and outside Morsi's presidential palace, still ringed with tanks after earlier protests.
"Down with the constitution of the Brotherhood," the Front said in a statement. "Down with the constitution of tyranny." A protester at the presidential palace, Mohamed Adel, 30, said: "I have been camping here for weeks and will continue to do so until the constitution that divided the nation, and for which people died, gets scrapped."
The build-up to the first round of voting saw clashes between supporters and opponents of Morsi in which eight people died. Recent demonstrations in Cairo have been more peaceful, although rival factions clashed on Friday in Alexandria, Egypt's second biggest city.
On Monday evening, more than 1,300 members of the General Prosecution staff gathered outside the office of Public Prosecutor Talaat Ibrahim to demand that he leave his post.
Hours later, Ibrahim announced he had resigned and the crowd cheered, "God is Great! Long live justice!" and "Long live the independence of the judiciary!" witnesses said.
The closeness of the first-round referendum vote and low turnout give Morsi scant comfort as he seeks to assemble support for difficult economic reforms to reduce the budget deficit.
He will hold a further round of national unity talks with political leaders on Tuesday, but the National Salvation Front is expected to stay away, as it has in the past.
Opposition bust
The lack of a big majority in the plebiscite so far has complicated matters for Morsi, strengthening the fractious opposition and casting doubt on the credibility of the constitution, political analysts believe.
"This percentage ... will strengthen the hand of the National Salvation Front and the leaders of this Front have declared they are going to continue this fight to discredit the constitution," said Mustapha Kamal Al-Sayyid, a professor of political science at Cairo University.
Morsi would be likely to become more unpopular with the introduction of planned austerity measures, polarizing society further, Sayyid told Reuters.
To tackle the budget deficit, the government needs to impose tax rises and cut back fuel subsidies. Uncertainty surrounding economic reform plans has already forced the postponement of a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. The Egyptian pound has fallen to eight-year lows against the dollar.
Morsi and his backers say the constitution is is needed to move Egypt's democratic transition forward. Opponents say the document is too Islamist and ignores the rights of women and of minorities, including Christians who make up 10 percent of the population.
Demonstrations erupted when Morsi awarded himself extra powers on November 22 and then fast-tracked the constitution through an assembly dominated by his Islamist allies and boycotted by many liberals.
The referendum has had to be held over two days because many of the judges needed to oversee polling staged a boycott in protest. In order to pass, the constitution must be approved by more than 50 percent of those voting.