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Islamist-Secular Tension in Egypt Ahead of the Constitutional Referendum

By December 14, 2012

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egypt constitutional referendumEgypt is at breaking point again. On Saturday Egyptians head out to vote on a controversial constitutional draft, supported by Islamists backing President Mohammed Morsi, but bitterly opposed by the secular opposition and the Coptic Christian minority.

Rival rallies have been held today, as Morsi's critics accuse the president of imposing a vaguely-worded document with a strong Islamist imprint. The voting will be done in two stages, starting tomorrow and finishing on December 22 (see this BBC report).

The vote follows three weeks of street protest and violence, triggered by Morsi's constitutional decree. On November 22, Morsi granted himself special presidential powers in place until the passing of the new constitution, which would pave the way toward fresh parliamentary elections (Egypt's parliament was dissolved by the judiciary earlier this year). Secular groups fear the president is working to install an Islamist dictatorship on the Iranian model, while Morsi insists he is only trying to speed up the messy transition from the interim military rule.

Islamists probably have the numbers to win the vote, but this rushed process looks set to deepen the Islamist-secular divide in Egyptian society regardless of the outcome. Bad omen for the rest of the region.

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Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images.



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