Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi’s opponents prepared to march on his office tomorrow and almost a dozen publications vowed not to print, amid growing criticism of the draft constitution he approved.
The Supreme Judicial Council said today it would help supervise a Dec. 15 referendum on the charter, after another prominent group of judges declined the task. The draft was hastily approved last week in a marathon session of the Islamist-dominated panel charged with writing it. Egypt’s top court suspended work after Mursi supporters crowded outside the building yesterday to protest a planned hearing on the legitimacy of the assembly.
The political row has polarized Egyptians over the past week, with pro-Mursi Islamists and political opponents staging mass rallies in Cairo and other cities. Activist groups and parties, including one founded by Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, said they would march on the presidential palace in the capital to protest a charter that “threatens the freedoms and rights of Egyptians.”
“We are exerting all peaceful means to express our opinion,” Mona Amer, a spokeswoman for the Popular Current, an opposition movement, said today by phone. “This is a constitution that has been written by a panel that doesn’t represent all groups in the country and that lacks consensus.”
‘Pitch Black’ Day
Justices from the Supreme Constitutional Court, which delayed a hearing on the drafting panel, described yesterday’s protests and alleged threats against them as a “pitch black” day in Egypt’s judicial history.
The protests, among the biggest since last year’s uprising against Hosni Mubarak, were sparked by a Nov. 22 presidential decree that gave Mursi sweeping new powers and put his decisions and the constitutional panel above court review. While he says the measures are temporary, protesters have charged him with seeking dictatorial powers.
The outbreak of anger may undermine efforts to revive an economy battered by months of unrest. Egypt’s benchmark EGX 30 Index of stocks fell 1.7 percent at 11:52 a.m. in Cairo. The gauge lost 12 percent last week, the most since March 2011. The country fell 65 percent short of its goal at an auction of treasury bills yesterday as borrowing costs surged. The three-month yield climbed to 13.03 percent, the highest in three months.
Eleven newspapers have decided not to publish tomorrow to protest what they say are limitations on freedoms in the draft constitution, according to Al Masry Al Youm, one of the papers that won’t go to print. A photo of a person covered in newspapers and sitting behind bars ran in several dailies today with the words: “No to a constitutional decree that cancels rights and shackles freedoms. No to dictatorship.”
The Islamists have criticized the courts and the media of bias against Mursi, who was fielded by the Muslim Brotherhood for the presidency.
“The positions of this court are politicized and are against the regime,” Mahmoud Ghozlan, a Brotherhood spokesman, said by phone, referring to the constitutional court. He said that putting the constitution to a referendum was the “pinnacle of democracy.”
State television talk-show host Hala Fahmy appeared on air late yesterday carrying her burial shroud in protest, saying state media has become a tool for the Islamists.
“The ruler has called for a referendum on a constitution for slaves,” Fahmy said on air, adding that the media has become “complacent.”
“The last thing I can do is carry my shroud,” she said.
Information Minister Salah Abdel-Maqsoud didn’t answer calls to his mobile seeking comment.
Mursi narrowly defeated Ahmed Shafik, the last Mubarak-era prime minister, for the presidency in June. The U.S.-trained rocket scientist had pledged repeatedly to be a president for all Egyptians.
“Mursi has failed to keep his pledge to reach a consensual constitution,” Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, a former presidential candidate and head of the Strong Egypt party, said on his Twitter account. “The call for a referendum reflects an insistence to divide the nation.”
The Judges Club, a prominent grouping of several thousand jurists, announced its members wouldn’t supervise the referendum, Ahmed El Zind, the group’s head, was cited as saying by the state-run Middle East News Agency. Today’s statement by the Supreme Judicial Council to supervise the vote isn’t binding on justices, the club said today.
Mursi’s approval rating has dropped to 57 percent from 79 percent two months earlier, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported yesterday, citing a survey by the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research on Nov. 28-29.
Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said yesterday that Mursi’s exceptional powers would expire in 13 days with the approval of the constitution, and that there were “no fears” of him abusing them.