News Column

Judges Agree to Oversee Egypt's Constitution Vote

Dec. 10, 2012

Judges in Egypt agreed Monday to oversee a referendum on the country's new constitution, paving the way for the December 15 poll to take place.

Many of the judges of the Administrative State Council had initially said they would boycott the vote. However, they changed their mind after President Mohammed Morsi cancelled a controversial decree giving him immunity from judicial review.

Morsi has agreed to annul the November 22 decree in an attempt to defuse increasing tension across the country, but insists that the constitutional vote should go ahead on Saturday.

The judges said their latest decision was conditional on a sit-in outside the Supreme Constitutional Court being ended.

Supporters of Egypt's Islamist president have camped outside the court's headquarters, in Cairo's southern suburb of Maadi, for the last nine days, preventing judges from working.

Protesters wanted to stop the court from dissolving the higher house of parliament, known as the Shura Council, or the Constituent Panel. Both are dominated by Islamists.

Other conditions placed by the judges include protecting voters, securing polling stations and banning propaganda outside them.

Morsi has called on the army to maintain public order and secure government institutions in the run-up to the referendum.

His decree, which was issued on Sunday, grants army officers the authority to arrest civilians to "maintaining public order" until the vote's results are announced.

The army last week deployed tanks around the presidential palace in Cairo and built a wall of concrete blocks to prevent opposition protesters from reaching the complex following deadly clashes between opponents and supporters of Morsi.

Seven people were killed and hundreds were injured in the violence, which underscored deep divisions in Egypt almost two years after the popular revolt that forced former strongman Hosny Mubarak to resign.

Dozens of protesters continue to camp in Cairo's central Tahrir Square and outside the presidential palace.

Egypt's main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, rejects the referendum, saying it will lead to more divisions and tensions.

The Strong Egypt Party, led by Islamist politician Abdul-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, has also rejected the constitution and has began a campaign to urge people to vote against it.

In another bid to ease tension, Morsi also has reversed his decision to increase sales taxes on many products, including steel, cement, soft drinks, beer, cigarettes and mobile-phone services.

The measure had been expected to increase resentment towards Morsi and the government.

Speaking in Brussels, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was "very concerned" about developments in Egypt.

"We urge a de-escalation, we urge an inclusive discussion, we urge that Egypt is allowed to continue ... on its process of transition and we will continue to support the people of Egypt in every way we can," Ashton said during talks with EU foreign ministers.

Also in Brussels, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle described the situation as very fragile, stressing that he was concerned "because we want the success of the Egyptian revolution."

Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, for his part, called on Morsi to engage in dialogue with the opposition to discuss steps after the referendum, while his Italian counterpart, Giulio Terzi, appealed to Egyptian leaders to listen and "assure the plurality and the richness of composition of the Egyptian society."

Source: Copyright 2012 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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