Morsiís opponents call for boycott of charter vote

International

DAVID D KIRKPATRICK

The political crisis over Egypt's draft constitution hardened on both sides Sunday, as President Mohammed Morsi prepared to deploy the army to safeguard balloting in a planned referendum on the new charter and his opponents called for more protests and a boycott to undermine the vote.

Thousands of demonstrators streamed toward the presidential palace for a fifth night of protests against Morsi and the proposed charter, and the president, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, formally issued an order asking the military to protect "vital institutions" and secure the vote.

With the decision to boycott the charter, the opposition signaled it had given up hope it could defeat the draft charter at the polls, and had opted instead to try to undermine the referendum's legitimacy.

The call for new protests - with major demonstrations expected at the presidential palace again on Tuesday and Friday ó ensures that questions about Egypt's national unity and stability will continue to overshadow debate about the specific contents of the charter. Although international experts who have studied the draft say it is hardly more religious than Egypt's old constitution, opponents say it fails to adequately protect individual rights from being constricted by a future Islamist majority in Parliament.

The opposition "rejects lending legitimacy to a referendum that will definitely lead to more sedition and division," said Sameh Ashour, a spokesman for the National Salvation Front.

Now the question is whether opponents can translate the energy of the protests against the charter into more votes and seats in parliamentary elections that are expected to take place two months after the referendum.

Both sides acknowledge Morsi has hurt himself and his party politically when the backlash led to a night of clashes that left at least six dead and hundreds more injured.

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