Mohammed Mursi's opponents refuse to play winning hand, analysts say
Opposition probably has numbers to kill president's draft constitution, but is divided over referendum, even after his scrapping of decree
Opponents of a constitutional referendum called by Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi have successfully mobilised protests that have drawn thousands to demonstrations at the presidential palace in the past week. But they have yet to agree on how to approach next weekend's vote, divided over whether to keep pushing for a delay, boycott it, or urge Egyptians to vote the proposed constitution down.
"We are still waiting to see the position of the revolutionary groups and the opposition, so that we take a unified position," said Mosaab Shahrour, a member of the April 6 movement, a leading opposition group.
That indecision could undercut what many say is the opposition's best chance to hand Mursi and his Islamist supporters a defeat in a venue that Mursi would have to recognise as legitimate.
Mursi made one concession on Saturday to his opposition, though it was unclear whether that would unify or divide his opponents. After a meeting of 54 Mursi opponents and supporters held at the presidential palace, a Mursi adviser said the president had agreed to cancel his controversial November 22 declaration in which he exempted his decisions from judicial oversight. He also agreed that if the constitution was defeated, he would call elections to select a new constitutional assembly.
But the adviser, Mohammed al Awa, said neither decision would halt the referendum, which now takes centre stage as the key point in the three-week political stand-off.
The opposition National Salvation Front called on supporters to rally against the referendum. The size of yesterday's turnout, especially at Cairo's central Tahrir square and outside the presidential palace in the capital's Heliopolis district, would determine whether Mursi's concession chipped away some of the popular support for the opposition's cause.
The April 6 movement dismissed Mursi's move as "a political manoeuvre aimed at duping the people".
The inability of liberals, secularists, Christians and moderates to present a united front has been a major reason Islamists have dominated Egypt in the two years since Hosni Mubarak was ousted.
Last year, many of them sat out parliamentary elections in protest. During the presidential election earlier this year, the same group of opponents put up three candidates, dividing the vote and contributing to Mursi's win in the run-off. During the writing of the constitution, Christian and secular members of the constitutional assembly withdrew, leaving members of the Muslim Brotherhood to dominate the group.
"We don't want to tell people to vote in the referendum because that means we accept what Mursi did by rushing the new constitution," said one of Egypt's most prolific liberal bloggers, a writer known as Big Pharaoh who plans to vote no. "The majority did not write the constitution."
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse