Egyptian opposition urges ‘no’ vote on constitution

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“The constitution is a decisive battle but not the final one. We will keep on fighting for our demands and for Egypt to become a country for all. This will not be the end,” he said.

Islamists who support the draft constitution, led by Mr. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and the ultraconservative Salafis, have been distributing fliers urging a “yes” vote and putting up posters with the same message. They also have been using mosques to disseminate their message.

The opposition has been boycotting a “national dialogue” hosted by the president, saying it doesn’t trust Mr. Morsi after he failed to live up to promises during the election campaign to form a representative national coalition government and to win a broad consensus before putting the constitution to a vote.

In another twist, Egypt‘s military withdrew a call for talks with the opposition, one day after proposing it.

Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali, a military spokesman, was quoted by the official MENA news agency as saying Defense Minister Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi decided to postpone Wednesday’s meeting because “the response to the invitation was below expectations.” The statement was not explained further.

“Lt. Gen. el-Sissi would like to seize this chance and call on all national and political forces and every segment of the glorious Egyptian people to shoulder their responsibility toward the nation and the citizens at this critical and sensitive time,” Col. Ali said.

That announcement came at the same time the opposition said it was willing to attend the meeting.

Gen. el-Sissi’s call, in the midst of dueling mass protest for and against the constitution, was seen as a return of the powerful military to the political scene after Mr. Morsi’s election ended nearly a year and a half of military rule following the February 2011 ouster of Mubarak as president in a popular uprising. It was the second time this week the generals have addressed the crisis, signaling their return to the political fray.

The cancellation of the army’s meeting likely was made under pressure from Mr. Morsi, who has been adamant since he took office that the military must stick to its core mission, such as protecting borders. Although Mr. Morsi appointed Gen. el-Sissi, he is not seen as tightly controlled by the president.

The vote for a half-million eligible expatriates overseas could give hints at which direction the referendum is going. Egyptian expatriates in the Gulf are known to lean toward Islamists while others in Europe and Australia, among them large number of Christian migrants, lean more toward liberals.

In the Egyptian Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, a handful of voters showed up after the vote started at 8 a.m. local time (midnight EST). Dr. Mohammed Abdullah said he voted yes because he wants stability, and any changes could be made later.

“We can make whatever amendments we want, but we have to get through this and return to normalcy,” he said.

The Middle East News Agency said Egyptian expatriates have up until Saturday to cast ballots in 150 diplomatic missions worldwide.

Two months after passing the referendum, the country is scheduled to have new parliamentary elections. A parliament elected after the uprising was disbanded after courts ruled the elections law was unconstitutional.

AP writer Ahmed al-Haj in Sanaa, Yemen, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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