Tensions mount as judges boycott Egyptian poll

Egypt’s judges yesterday said most of them would not oversee a nationwide referendum on a contentious draft constitution, as tens of thousands of opponents and supporters of the country’s Islamist president staged rival rallies in Cairo, four days ahead of the vote.

The demonstrations and judges’ boycott came hours after masked assailants set upon opposition protesters in Tahrir Square, firing birdshot and swinging knives and sticks. Security officials said five “hardened criminals” were arrested in connection with the attack.

Eleven protesters were wounded, the MENA state news agency said.

The violence served as a stark reminder of the stakes in Egypt’s political battle over the disputed draft constitution, which goes to a nationwide referendum on Saturday. The charter has polarised the nation and triggered some of the worst street violence since Mohammed Morsi took office in June as Egypt’s first freely elected president.

On one side of the divide, there is Morsi, his Muslim Brotherhood, and ultraorthodox Salafis, while on the other side is a collection of liberals, leftists, and Christians who claim the draft charter restricts freedoms and gives Islamists vast influence over the country.

Egypt’s military, which handed power to Morsi in June, is re-entering the political fray. Earlier this week, it warned of disastrous consequences if the crisis over the country’s draft constitution is not resolved.

The military sees itself as the guarantor of Egypt’s interests and secular traditions.


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