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Morsi's call for referendum on draft constitution electrifies divisions

The president's call for a vote on draft constitution is welcomed by supporters who head to HCC headquarters, dennounced by opponents of Morsi's recent decision to shield the Constituent Assembly and override judiciary

Ahram Online, Mostafa Ali, Sunday 2 Dec 2012
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Supporters of Morsi celebrate call for referendum in Cairo on Saturday night (Photo: Ahram)
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Early reactions to president Mohamed Morsi's announcement that the people would vote on 15 December in a referendum on the draft constitution that was preseneted to him by the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly on Saturday night have been mixed.

Thousands of the president's supporters who have been demonstrating in a massive rally near Cairo University all day Saturday celebrated the president's move with chants of Allah Akbar (God is great), fireworks and nationalist songs.

"The people will be the source of all powers for the first time ever," Khaled Mohamed, a Morsi supporter, told Ahram Arabic news website. Mohamed called on revolutionaries in Tahrir to respect the will of the people.

"The people will be very happy after we have a constitution. We have been waiting for this since the onset of the January revolution," Samir El-Sharkawy said.

Meanwhile, Less than three kilometres away at Tahrir Square several thousand anti-Morsi protesters who had been staging a sit-in against the president's constitutional declaration for several days chanted against the Brotherhood and Morsi vowing to continue their opposition.

Islamists mobilise against High Constitutional Court

Immediately after the end of their day-long protests near Cairo University, hundreds of Islamists marched onto the High Constitutional Court (HCC), which is expected to issue its verdict on the constitutionality of the Constituent Assembly.

Islamist leaders have called on protesters to set up camp over-night at the HCC in preparation for a bigger demonstration on Sunday. 

Safwat Hegazy, a hardline supporter of the Brotherhood who heads the "Guardians of the Revolution Council", has issued a directive to his members to come to Cairo from various governorates on Sunday  to join the demonstration.

In a statement issued on Saturday night, the council urged supporters to preempt what id described as the "pre-prepared illegitimate decisions that the HCC is expected to issue against the Constituent Assembly and the lower house of parliament."

Hegazy also called on president Morsi to dissolve the 19-judge HCC which he described as a" main tool of counter-revolution which is made up of judjes appointed by the ousted Mubarak." 

In parralel, Yousry Hammad, the vice-presidentt of the Salafist Nour Party asserted on his Facebook page that the completion of the draft constitution and the president's call for a referendum on Saturday evening are deeds that will send a strong message to those who do not want the people to be freed "Mubarak's dark tunnels."

Hammad also saluted those who have decided to "pay a visit on Sunday" to the judges at the HCC.

Safwat Abdul-Ghani, a leading member in the ultra-conservative Al-Gamaa Islamiya, said in a phone interview that they are mobilising people to go to the HCC on the Nile Corniche in Maadi: "Not because we are worried that they will overturn the president's constitutional decree, that is a done deal, but just in case they try and accuse the president of committing High Treason."

Meanwhile, Ahram Arabic news website learned that the HCC has asked the police to beef up its presence outside the court on Sunday to ensure the scheduled court session takes place.

Brotherhood leaders urge opponents to 'defeat referendum at ballots'

Shortly after the president finished his speech calling for a vote on the draft constitution, Mohamed El-Beltagy, the Muslim Brotherhood main operative in the Constituent Assembly, called on the opponents of the draft to fight it - if they disagreed with it - by mobilising a NO vote.

El-Beltagy, a leading member also in the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, told Ahram Online that if the opposition defeats the draft at the referendum set for 15 December, a new Constituent Assembly will be chosen via direct elections.

Still, El-Beltagy predicted that the draft will pass the referendum with 70-75 per cent supporting it, adding that when the people approve a new constititution all "dictatorial presidential decrees" rejected by the opposition will become void.

Though the Muslim Brotherhood, from which president Morsi hails, has not officially called on its rank and file to head to the HCC with other Islamists, Al-Badil website reported that large numbers of Brotherhood members have joined other protesters at the court's headquarters.

The Opposition dennounces president's move

However, Geogette Kellini, a one-time MP told Ahram online that president Morsi that she belives president Morsi is "bending the people's arm" by making them chose between "two fires": "the fire of an illegitimate constitutional declaration or te fire of an unconstitutional draft that is impossible to accept."

Meanwhile, the Judge's Club which vehemently opposes the president's recent constitutional declarration which gave him powers above the judiciary, including the right to shield the assembly from dissolution verdicts, have called for an emergency meeting to discuss their response.

The Liberal Constitution Party, which was founded by Mohamed ElBaradei, issued a statement denouncing the president's call for a referendum in the absence of national consensus, and vowed to defeat the draft constitution "by all possible means."

Liberal politician Mustafa El-Naggar, a member of Adl Party and a former MP from Cairo, said in a tweet that the president's decision to call for a referendum before consensus could be reached between non-Islamist and Islamist forces ended all changes for compromises to be reached.

"When the people starve and when you bankrupt the country, feed the people your version of sharia. If you could ever understand the real meanings of sharia you would  be ashamed of yourselves," Naggar tweeted.

On his part, the founder of the Egypt Strong Party and a one-time leading member of the Brotherhood, charged on his twitter account that "president Morsi has broken his promise to deliver a constitution based on consensus and insists on deepening chasms in the country."

"The fact that there were no representatives [left at the final vote] in the assembly of revolutionary youth, the church, civil forces, journalists - and the fact they [the remaining 85 members] prayed then debated and prayed then voted all day and night to finish the draft means that the president was certain that the HCC will void the Constituent Assembly, Kellini said.

Anti-Morsi forces have threatened to march on the presidential palace in Heliopolis if constitutional declaration was not withdrawn.

Veteran journalist Abdel-Halim Qandil, a fierce critic of the president, and the Mubarak regime before the revolution, has called in a tweet "on the judges, workers, and underground metro drivers to strike and to march on the presidential palace" to defeat the president's decrees.

Many judges, who are on strike against the decree, have already threatened not to monitor the referendum if the preident did not rescind his decisions.

Ahram Online also learned that representatives of various opposition groups and political parties who oppose the draft and the president's recent decrees are holding an emergency meeting in the early hours of Sunday to discuss their response to the call for a referendum.

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