- Associated Press - Sunday, December 23, 2012

CAIRO — Egypt’s opposition said Sunday it will keep fighting the Islamist-backed constitution after the Muslim Brotherhood, the main group backing the charter, claimed it passed with a 64 percent “yes” vote in a referendum.

The opposition alleged vote fraud and demanded an investigation — a sign that the referendum will not end the turmoil that has roiled this country for nearly two years since the uprising that ousted authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.

Many Egyptians, especially the tens of millions who live in extreme poverty, had hoped the new constitution might usher in a period of more stability.

A heated political debate over the past month leading to the referendum at times erupted into deadly street battles.

But there were no mass opposition demonstrations Sunday after the unofficial results came out.

Renewed violence and political tensions have further imperiled Egypt’s already precarious economy, reeling from dwindling resources and a cash-strapped government with plans to borrow $4.8 billion from the International Monetary Fund that had to be pushed back because of the turmoil.

The Finance Ministry said Sunday the budget deficit reached $13 billion in the five months from July to November, about 4.5 percent higher compared to the same period last year.

Official results of the referendum are not expected until Monday. If the unofficial numbers are confirmed, it will be a victory for Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who is from the Brotherhood.

The opposition’s allegations look likely to prolong the fight.

Beyond allegations of fraud, the opposition likely will challenge new laws issued on the basis of the constitution as well as Mr. Morsi’s economic policies.

“The referendum is not the endgame. It is only a battle in this long struggle for the future of Egypt,” said the National Salvation Front, the main opposition group. “We will not allow a change to the identity of Egypt or the return of the age of tyranny.”

The opposition claims the new constitution seeks to enshrine Islamic rule in Egypt and accuses the Islamists of trying to monopolize power.

Critics say it does not sufficiently protect the rights of women and minority groups and empowers Muslim clerics by giving them a say over legislation. Some articles also are seen as being tailored to get rid of Islamists’ enemies and undermine the freedom of labor unions.

The latest political battle began with Mr. Morsi’s Nov. 22 decrees that gave him powers to protect the Islamist-dominated panel writing the constitution and dismiss the country’s top prosecutor, a holdover from the Mubarak era.

Although Mr. Morsi subsequently rescinded the powers that gave him immunity from judicial oversight, his decision to replace the prosecutor general was viewed by many in the judiciary as trampling over their powers.

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