Egypt’s opposition is calling for mass protests today over alleged polling violations after Islamists backing President Mohammed Mursi claimed victory in the first round of a referendum on a new charter.
The opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, urged Egyptians to “take to the streets to defend their freedoms, prevent fraud and reject the draft constitution” ahead of the next round of voting on Saturday.
It claimed “irregularities and violations” marred the initial stage of the referendum across half of Egypt that Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood said yielded a 57 per cent “yes” vote, according to its unofficial tally.
The official count will be announced only after the other half of the country goes to the polls in the second round.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the Front’s co-ordinator and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, renewed his call for Mursi to cancel the referendum and enter talks with the opposition.
“Last chance: cancel the ill-reputed referendum and begin a dialogue to close the rift, and [appoint] a capable government that can administer, and bring back the state of law,” he wrote on Twitter.
Large protests for and against the proposed constitution have been staged over the past three weeks, sparking several violent clashes and revealing deep divisions in Egyptian society over Mursi’s rule.
Some 250,000 soldiers and police have been mobilised to ensure security during the two-stage referendum.
The opposition says the constitution weakens human rights, especially those of women, and undermines the independence of judges while strengthening the hand of the military.
It fears Islamists propelled into power after a revolution last year that toppled the 30-year regime of Hosni Mubarak want to establish sharia-style laws.
Mursi, though, argues that the slender majority support he won in June presidential elections gives him a mandate for change and that the draft constitution is a key step to securing stability.
Many analysts believe the lack of consensus over the draft constitution is dragging Egypt into a prolonged political conflict.
Ahmed Abdelrabu, a professor of political science at Cairo University, said the current situation “reflects a state of, I don’t want to say lack of trust of the Islamic movements, but a distance from them”.
He predicted the “yes” vote would grow in the next round because many people in the more conservative south of Egypt would be going to the polls.
In the run-up to the final round, he said: “I think it’s possible that some clashes or incidents might happen.”
The opposition claims that last Saturday’s first round of the referendum, which took place in the biggest cities of Cairo and Alexandria and in eight other regions, had numerous violations.
Those included monitors not being allowed into some polling stations, judges not present in all as required, fake judges employed and some women prevented from casting their ballot.
Several Egyptian rights and monitoring groups said the first round should be re-run.