Egypt army delays unity talks

Opposition urges ‘no’ vote as Egypt set for 2-stage referendum

An Egyptian woman votes on a draft constitution at the Egyptian embassy in Jordan yesterday. Photo: AFPAfp, Cairo

Egypt’s crisis showed no sign of easing yesterday as the army delayed unity talks meant to ease political divisions and the opposition set near-impossible demands for taking part in a looming constitutional referendum.

Voting on the controversial Islamist-backed draft charter is due to start on Saturday with a second round scheduled for a week later.

Egyptians abroad have already started casting their votes in embassies and consulates, the official MENA news agency said.

Mass demonstrations for and against the referendum called by Islamist President Mohamed Morsi took place in Cairo late on Tuesday.

But there was no repeat of the violent clashes between Morsi supporters and foes last week that left eight people dead and hundreds injured.

The army, which has deployed troops and tanks to protect the presidential palace in Cairo, said it was postponing to an unspecified “later date” talks it had scheduled for Wednesday between Morsi and the opposition.

Responses to its invitations to the dialogue “were not at the level wished for,” the military explained in a statement on its official Facebook page.

The opposition National Salvation Front, which said it had agreed to take part in the talks, appealed to its supporters to vote ‘no’ in the referendum on the draft charter.

It warned it could call for a boycott if Morsi’s government failed to meet tough conditions.

“We call to Egyptians to go to polling stations to refuse the proposed constitution and to vote no,” it said in a statement read by a spokesman at a news conference.

That position would harden to a boycott call if Morsi’s government did not organise the voting on a single day — this coming Saturday — as originally planned, and if judges and international poll monitors did not oversee it.

Those conditions appeared near-impossible for Morsi to meet. A key group of judges has already said it will not oversee the vote. Pro-Morsi judges would be stretched too thin to monitor the referendum in one day.

Michael Wahid Hanna, a political analyst at US think-tank The Century Foundation, told AFP that, given the Muslim Brotherhood’s proven ability to mobilise grassroots support, the odds were good that the referendum would pass, although it was not “an absolute certainty.”

But that may turn the crisis to worse.

The military has already said it fears the Arab world’s most populous country is headed for a disastrous “dark tunnel” unless the two sides talk. It has warned it will not allow the situation to worsen.

Source: The Daily Star