CAIRO — President Mohammed Morsi is unlikely to worry if Egypt's Islamist-leaning draft constitution passes by only a small margin in a Dec. 15 referendum, since he and his backers tout his 51 percent election victory in June as a "popular mandate" that is beyond any challenge.
Still, an idea taking root among many secular Egyptians is that a constitution requires a reasonable degree of consensus to qualify as a charter for all — and that it is fundamentally illegitimate to ram one through by a simple majority despite opposition from key sectors of society that oppose giving religion such a major role in the affairs of state.
"It is irrational to have a constitution that does not genuinely represent everyone," said Kahlil al-Anani, an expert on Egypt. "It is important that a constitution is passed with a comfortable majority, but it does not make the document less credible if it is a modest majority."
The proposed constitution is at the heart of the nation's worst political crisis since the overthrow nearly two years ago of authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak. The charter has divided Egypt, with Morsi and his Islamist backers, including ultraconservative Salafis, in one camp, and secularists and leftists, including minority Christians and women, in the other.
At least six civilians have been killed in street clashes and several offices of the president's Muslim Brotherhood torched in the unrest.
With such deep polarization, Morsi on Saturday offered the opposition a mixed bag: He rescinded decrees he issued Nov. 22 that gave him near absolute powers, but he insisted the referendum go ahead as scheduled.
The opposition's response was to call for more street protests to try to force him to abandon the draft constitution.
There may only be a small chance of Morsi doing that.
Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood and other like-minded groups are already campaigning for a "yes" vote, marketing the referendum and the adoption of a constitution as the door to stability and economic recovery.