Egypt’s Islamists and secular activists held their last rallies before a constitutional referendum that may decide what kind of state emerges to replace Hosni Mubarak’s autocracy.
Supporters of President Mohamed Mursi from the Muslim Brotherhood gathered outside the Rabia al-Adawaiya mosque in eastern Cairo after Friday prayers, calling for the approval of the constitution. The Brotherhood says that will stabilize the country and pave the way for economic recovery. The opposition, which held meetings in Tahrir Square and outside Mursi’s palace, says the text was drawn up by Islamists and won’t protect minorities or free expression.
In Alexandria, clashes broke out between the rival camps after a preacher called on worshipers to vote “yes.” Hundreds of people on each side hurled rocks at each other and opposition supporters set light to cars they said belonged to members of the Brotherhood’s political wing. At least 19 people were hurt, and three Islamists were arrested after being caught with swords and Molotov cocktails, state-run Ahram Gate said, citing emergency and security services.
Cairo, Alexandria and eight other governorates will vote tomorrow, and the rest of the country a week later. The referendum follows a wave of protests against Mursi’s efforts to expand his own powers and push the charter through. The past week’s rallies have been peaceful, though violence broke out between the two camps the week before, leaving at least 10 dead and showing how divided Egypt remains almost two years after Mubarak’s fall.
The unrest has disrupted the government’s economic plans. Egypt has asked the International Monetary Fund to postpone approval of a $4.8 billion loan, scheduled for next week, until at least January. Mursi suspended IMF-backed tax increases this week, aimed at trimming the region’s biggest budget deficit, on concern they would exacerbate public anger.
The Egyptian pound, whose value is steered by the central bank, this week posted its biggest four-day drop since Mubarak’s ouster. It pared losses today, adding 0.1 percent to 6.1684 per dollar. The bank has spent almost 60 percent of its foreign reserves since the end of 2010, raising concern it may be forced to devalue the currency in the absence of political stability and IMF loans.
The benchmark stock index posted its biggest weekly gain since the week after Mursi’s election in June, adding 6.7 percent, and bond yields fell on expectations the referendum would be held without violence and help push forward the political transition. The stock market is closed today.
Polling stations will open at 8 a.m. tomorrow, the election commission’s website said, without specifying a closing time. Eligible voters who don’t cast ballots are liable to a fine of 500 pounds ($81), Al Shorouk newspaper said today. Results of the first round of voting will be announced before the second round, the newspaper said, citing Zaghloul al-Balshy, head of the election commission.
The army will help ensure security, with 120,000 police and soldiers deployed to polling stations, and 7,000 judges will monitor the vote, Al-Ahram newspaper said. The U.S.-based Carter Center, which oversaw other Egyptian elections in the past year, said it won’t send monitors for this one because the rules were set down too late.
The National Salvation Front, the biggest opposition coalition, called on Egyptians to vote “no” at a press conference today. The Front has put forward a series of proposals aimed at bridging divisions over the charter, none of which have elicited a response, Mohamed Abul Ghar, a Front member and head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, told reporters in Cairo.
The Shura Council of Salafi Scholars, representing an austere branch of Islam that has sometimes challenged the Brotherhood, called on supporters to vote “yes” even though they have criticisms of the constitution’s failure to apply Islamic Sharia law, Ahram Gate said today.
The United Nations Working Group on discrimination against women said today it has “deep concern” about the constitution’s failure to specify protection from discrimination based on gender. “Key opportunities have been missed,” said Kamala Chandrakirana, who heads the group, in an e-mailed statement from Geneva. “Almost no women were represented” in the panel that drafted the charter, and “women’s perspectives were grossly under-represented in the final draft.”
To ensure the right public mood in the run-up to the vote, authorities yesterday banned Egypt’s 23 state-owned television channels from broadcasting any “romantic” songs or video clips, Ahram reported. Only “patriotic” tunes “that are worth broadcasting” will be allowed, it said.