Controversy surrounding proposed constitution has in the past month plunged Egypt into its worst turmoil since the February 2011 ouster of Hosni Mubarak, the longtime authoritarian and secular-minded ruler.
The draft has split the country into two camps. On one side are the Islamists from the country's most organized political group, the Muslim Brotherhood, from which President Mohammed Morsi hails, and their backers from various Salafi and former Jihadi groups.
The opposition camp, led by the National Salvation Front, is an alliance of liberal parties and youth groups backed by Christians and moderate Muslims who fear the Brotherhood is attempting to monopolize power by passing a constitution that enshrines a greater role for clerics and Islamic law.
Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians from both sides have rallied in the streets over the past month. The crisis peaked when Brotherhood supporters attacked an opposition sit-in outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Dec. 5. The ensuing violence left at least 10 dead and hundreds of injured on both sides.
The crisis was compounded by Morsi's decision to rush the draft constitution to a referendum after an Islamist-dominated panel approved it, as well as his move last month to grant himself near-absolute powers, which were later rescinded.
Morsi's moves have also split state institutions. The judiciary became another battleground, with the powerful Judges' Club calling on its members to boycott the constitution vote while Brotherhood sympathizers in the legal system and other independents insisted on supervising it.
Egyptian prosecutors held a sit-in protest to press Morsi-appointed prosecutor general Talaat Abdullah to resign on Monday. Abdullah resigned, then retracted his resignation on Thursday, raising the prospect of new protests by fellow prosecutors.
Also, Zaghloul el-Balshi, the secretary general of the election committee who is also a judge and an aid to the country's justice minister, resigned Wednesday, citing health reasons. The media said his resignation was prompted by his inability to prevent voting violations in the first leg of the referendum.
Morsi's move to pick appointees for parliament's upper house came ahead of a deadline — the constitution, if passed, would limit presidential appointees to only 10. The 270-member Shura Council, normally purely an advisory body, would hold legislative authority until the lower house is elected two months after the constitution passes. Most seats are already held by Islamists.
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