CAIRO – Two days before a constitutional referendum it considered boycotting, Egypt’s secular opposition finally launched its no campaign Thursday with newspaper and TV ads detailing the argument against the charter drafted by Islamist supporters of President Mohammed Morsi.
The Morsi camp has a simpler message: A yes to the constitution is a yes to Islam.
The deadly violence and harsh divisions of recent weeks – combined with the inability of most Egyptians to even comprehend the densely written 63-page document – have turned the vote into a stark choice on whether the largest Arab nation takes a serious step toward theocratic rule.
This constitution is supposed to protect the rights of the minorities, but it is written by the majority for the majority, said Haitham Sherdi, a young opposition supporter from Cairo.
If it passes, it will be used to crush the minority until they vanish, he added, referring to Egypt’s Christian community.
Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists have been plastering posters across much of the country urging Egyptians to vote yes to protecting (Islamic) Sharia (laws).
The opposition’s campaign on TV, in newspapers and in fliers uses the slogan A constitution to divide Egypt. Activists also took to the streets with loudspeakers atop pickup trucks touring Cairo and other cities.
The opposition campaign began a day after the National Salvation Front – an umbrella group of opposition parties – announced it was calling on supporters to vote no rather than boycott the referendum. The delay reflected divisions within the alliance.
Reform leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, who was among those initially favoring a boycott, made an emotional appeal to Morsi on Thursday to postpone the vote, warning of the specter of civil war. He called on his supporters to vote no if the referendum goes ahead as scheduled.
Jehad el-Haddad, a spokesman for the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party, said it will accept the referendum result regardless of the outcome, but added: We want to have a constitution in place because it’s a pillar of a functioning state. The fact that it is lacking encourages a lot of people to resort to undemocratic means.
In many ways, the pros and cons of the draft constitution have been overshadowed by the crisis.
With killings and mass street protests defining the past three weeks, commentators have warned of a country moving toward civil strife and a schism that may not be bridged.