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Opposition Claims Egyptian Referendum Rigged, Calls for Protest, Re-vote

Vote on draft constitution to continue on Saturday

- Beth Brogan, staff writer

Reports of widespread voting violations at Saturday's constitutional referendum prompted human rights groups and others to call for a re-vote, even as opponents of the proposed constitution urged Egyptians to "take to the streets on Tuesday to defend their freedoms, prevent fraud and reject the draft."

An Egyptian woman votes Saturday on a controversial draft constitution opposed by liberals, secularists and other religious minorities. (Photo: AP) On the first day of a referendum scheduled to continue on Dec. 22, 57 percent of voters reportedly supported the draft constitution pushed through by President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. But voter turnout was only 31 percent, according to the New York Times, leaving some to question the legitimacy of the constitution should it pass when next week's votes are counted.

Even as voting took place on Saturday, charges of voters being turned away or delayed, impersonation of judges and a lack of judges to supervise were reported.

On Sunday, The National Salvation Front called for Egyptians to protest on Tuesday in order to "stop forgery and bring down the invalid draft constitution," Reuters reports.

"Violations included the barring of civil society from polling stations, (Freedom and Justice Party) members being given exclusive authority to monitor by the (National Council of Human Rights), the impersonation of judges authority, the intimidation and terrorizing of citizens, and political violence," representatives of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies said at a press conference Sunday.

"Ghada Shahbandar of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, told Sharif Abdel Kouddous of Democracy Now!, "Elections and referenda should be carried in a legal and safe environment ... what's happening now is there's been a lot of instability over the past two weeks, so this does not qualify as a safe an secure environment."

Violent clashes throughout the country have flared since Morsi signed a decree on Nov. 22 granting him sweeping powers over the country's judiciary. He rescinded the decree, but then rushed through the referendum, prompting many of the country's judges to boycott the polls.

In the interim, clashes between pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrators resulted in the deaths of at least 10 protesters, and hundreds of injuries.

Eida Seif El Sdawla, professor of psychiatry at Ain Shams University and a member of the Nadim Center for Victims of Violence and Torture, told Democracy Now! that the weeks of violence "is a message that the Brotherhood, the Freedom and Justice Party, the president—I don't care how they classify themselves—are not objecting to torture. They think it is a legitimate way to confront your so-called enemies."

Results at the Dec. 22 polls are expected to echo those of Saturday. Still, the relatively slim margin of victory has prompted some opponents to question how effectively Morsi could govern under a constitution passed by that margin.

The low margin "will strengthen the hand of the National Salvation Front and the leaders of this Front have declared they are going to continue this fight to discredit the constitution," Mustapha Kamal Al-Sayyid, a professor of political science at Cairo University, told Reuters. "The polarization is far from being ended. The unpopularity of [Morsi] will increase with economic measures he is planning to introduce."

The New York Times reports:

Some opposition figures were hailing the results of the referendum as a small victory for non-Islamist political groups. Amr Hamzawy, the founder of the liberal Free Egypt Party, asserted in a message on Twitter that the relative closeness of the outcome ended the notion that the Brotherhood was unbeatable at the polls. “Saying that democratic currents have no popularity, and that the Brotherhood and their allies monopolize popular will and have the license of the boxes fell yesterday, once and for all,” Mr. Hamzawy wrote.

But analysts said that the voting had left an uncertain landscape. A much better showing for the draft constitution in the next round would probably strengthen Mr. Morsi’s hand. But if current voting patterns continue, Mr. Morsi would just as surely face steep challenges in governing. The Brotherhood could also be seen as more vulnerable in parliamentary elections due after the constitution is adopted.

Mr. Morsi’s problems could start with the charter itself. If it passes narrowly with only about one-third of eligible voters turning out, the document would have legal legitimacy, “but it’s difficult to argue it would have popular legitimacy,” said Zaid al-Ali, who has tracked Egypt’s constitution-writing process for the International Institute for Democratic and Electoral Assistance, based in Sweden. “Politically, it will be a hot potato for a long time to come,” he said.

A narrow outcome would oblige the president to “spend a large proportion of his time defending its legitimacy, rather than discussing specific policies,” Mr. Ali said.

On Monday, Mohamed ElBaradei, coordinator of the National Salvation Front and former head of the United Nation's nuclear agency, again called on Morsi to shelve the referendum and hold talks with the opposition, the BBC reports.

"Last chance: cancel the ill-reputed referendum and begin a dialogue to close the rift, and [appoint] a capable technocratic government that can administer and bring back the state of law," he wrote on Twitter.

Democracy Now! released this video news segment on Monday: