Egypt’s Opposition Rallies as Tensions Persist After Voting

Egyptian opposition activists rallied today to protest an Islamist-backed constitution after a first round of voting on the charter sparked allegations of irregularities.

Initial results from the Dec. 15 referendum suggested a victory for the “yes” vote and a “no” vote that’s large enough to prolong tensions. Voters in Cairo, Alexandria and eight other provinces endorsed the new constitution by 57 percent to 43 percent, according to state-run Ahram Gate website. Official results won’t be announced until after the second round, which will be held on Dec. 22 in areas where support for the Islamists is traditionally strong.

“We are continuing to express our rejection for this draft constitution because it divided the country,” Khaled Dawoud, a spokesman for the National Salvation Front, one of the groups calling for protests, said today by phone. “If about 50 percent of the population is not satisfied with the constitution, this is a prescription for more instability.”

The referendum follows a wave of demonstrations against President Mohamed Mursi’s efforts to push the charter through, sometimes escalating into fatal clashes between his supporters and opponents. Mursi’s backers, including the Muslim Brotherhood, argue that the constitution will help stabilize the country and speed the economy’s recovery, and they say the opposition must accept the public’s verdict. Critics say the text was drawn up by Islamists, won’t protect rights, and was opposed by enough people to make it unworkable.

Opposition Chants

Protesters marched through the streets of Cairo, some banging on drums and yelling: “Freedom! Freedom!” footage aired on the Arabic-language Al Jazeera channel showed. Others waved Egyptian flags and clapped as they chanted: “We don’t want the constitution of blood.”

In a scene replayed at recent protests, demonstrators used the chants that rang out during last year’s uprising that unseated Hosni Mubarak -- this time against Mursi. “Leave. Leave,” and “The people want to topple the regime,” some shouted.

“The Islamists could feel empowered by their victory, which they could interpret as a fresh mandate,” Raza Agha, chief regional economist for VTB Capital Plc in London, wrote in a research note yesterday. “Given that the opposition does not also seem to want to budge, political instability is unlikely to come down even after the second round.”

Complaints Filed

Opposition leaders and representatives of rights groups today filed complaints to the public prosecutor, demanding that investigative judges be assigned to look into irregularities they say occurred during the Dec. 15 voting, according to an e- mailed statement from the National Salvation Front. Mahmoud Ghozlan, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, has called the allegations baseless.

Justice Minister Ahmed Mekky asked appeals courts nationwide to assign investigative judges to look into alleged “violations and crimes” relating to the vote, MENA reported today. Mekky said he is ready to appear before an investigative judge, MENA reported citing ministry spokesman Ahmed Roushy.

The constituent assembly that drafted the constitution invited four opposition leaders from the front for a “public and transparent” dialogue on Dec. 21 to discuss their objections, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported today. They include Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei and former presidential candidates Amre Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi, it said. Dawoud said the front was unlikely to attend as one of its main demands, to postpone the referendum, hadn’t been met.

Battered Economy

The political turmoil threatens to set back Egypt’s efforts to rebuild an economy battered since last year’s uprising. Mursi, who became Egypt’s first freely elected civilian leader when he won a presidential vote in June, last week postponed Egypt’s application for a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan.

Prosecutor-General Talaat Abdullah submitted his resignation yesterday to the Supreme Judicial Council after hundreds of prosecutors rallied against him outside his office, MENA reported. He was appointed by Mursi last month. The Brotherhood urged the council to refuse to accept his resignation, it said in a statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mariam Fam in Cairo at mfam1@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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