Egypt vote means fateful choice for nation

By Hamza Hendawi

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Dec. 13 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Worse still, the rights groups say, Morsi publicly compromised the due process rights of dozens of protesters detained by police when he said in a nationally televised address that they had confessed to being "paid thugs."

On Thursday, 20 Egyptian rights groups issued a joint statement warning of possible election fraud and expressing concerns that a state-run human rights council has taken charge of issuing monitoring permits, which in the past were obtained directly from the elections committee.

The council is headed by Judge Hossam el-Ghariyani, also the head of the controversial constitutional drafting panel.

Meanwhile, the Carter Center, the main international group monitoring earlier Egyptian votes, said it would not deploy monitors for the referendum because of the government's late release of monitoring regulations. The absence of the center, founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, increases the likelihood that the rushed process could undermine the constitution's legitimacy if it passes.

Egypt's crisis began on Nov. 22 when Morsi issued decrees, since rescinded, that placed him above judicial oversight.

But the confrontation now centers on the draft charter. Morsi's opponents contend the document gives religious authorities too much influence over legislation, threatens to restrict freedom of expression and opens the door to Islamist control over day-to-day life.

Islamists, on the other hand, have embraced the draft as a victory for Islam.

"I am not in favor of parts of the constitution, but I am happy with the greater role it gave to Sharia," said Moataz Abdel-Hafeez, a pharmacist who follows the ultraconservative Salafi doctrine of Islam. "I am hopeful that an Islamic parliament will be elected and change all laws that contradict or don't conform with Sharia."

The fallout has divided Egypt, with Morsi, his Muslim Brotherhood and their Salafi allies on one side, and the rest of the country, including liberals, leftists and Christians, on the other.

The Supreme Constitutional Court had been expected to rule earlier this month to dissolve the panel that drafted the constitution. But the Brotherhood has prevented the judges from entering the building for three weeks.

As a result, the panel — packed with Morsi supporters — rushed through the document in an all-night session on Nov. 29-30, voting overwhelmingly in favor of each of its 236 clauses.

"A constitution that is adopted overnight is definitely a flawed one," said Ahmed el-Fiqqi, a 30-year-old musician. "I will vote 'no' but if it is passed and implemented in the spirit it was written I will seriously consider leaving the country."

Associated Press writers Maggie Michael and Maggie Fick contributed to this report.

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