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Protests across Egypt continue despite President Morsi having withdrawn decrees giving him vast powers. The opposition continues to fight for a different constitution, having lost trust after Muslim Brotherhood violence.
The majority of Egypt's opposition is rejecting the Saturday referendum on the country's new constitution. On the part of the larger opposition parties, it seems that only the party of moderately religious Abdel Moneim Abul Fotuh is in favor of participating in the referendum - yet even Fotuh rejects the constitution. Meanwhile, the fact that President Mohamed Morsi has annulled a decree which would have giving him huge powers was not enough to keep opposition activists off the streets.
"We are afraid that the basic rights of people will be limited and will not be enshrined in our constitution," said Abdul Bar Zahran, founding member and official for the Free Egyptians Party, one of the largest opposition groups in the country. He promoted continuation of the protest against the president and against the planned referendum: "We call for countrywide protests on all squares of Egypt for this Tuesday."
For Zahran, the withdrawal of the president's special rights is merely another political maneuver by the Muslim Brotherhood. From the very beginning, he believes, it was Morsi's goal to push through with the constitution against the will of the opposition. Morsi had simply used the decree to stop the constitutional assembly from being dissolved. Now, the time left is too short to dissolve the assembly, so the draft constitution has been saved as long as it is accepted in the referendum.
No real representation
The opposition is angered not only by the draft constitution, but also by the way it had been drawn up, explained Elijah Zarwan, an expert with the European Council on Foreign Relations in Cairo. "Let's assume that Morsi will pass five decrees that get the opposition all worked up. Then he withdraws one of them, and already he appears as someone willing to compromise, and then it's the opposition that'll look stubborn," Zarwan said.
But in fact, the four other decrees remain unchanged, he pointed out, adding that the opposition had already been protesting against the draft constitution long before Morsi tried to give himself power to rule by decree.
For that reason, almost all non-Islamist members of the constitutional assembly had left before Morsi's special decree. The draft that will be voted on Saturday was therefore drawn up with out representatives from the non-Islamist parties. Thus, in the eyes of the opposition, the entire process is illegitimate, said Zarwan.
"Egypt doesn't deserve such a constitutional draft, for the constitutional assembly does not represent the people, it only represented the Islamist interests," he said.
Lacking trust in Muslim Brotherhood
Another reason for boycotting the referendum is the recent violence against peaceful protesters. Zahran said this reduced trust in the Muslim Brotherhood. "For we have seen the pictures and experienced on the streets how the militias of the Brotherhood have gone after the demonstrators," he said.
Most of the protesters outside the presidential palace share this view. For them, the Muslim Brotherhood lost any trust it may have had in the past.
In a country with a freely elected president, it should be possible to peacefully demonstrate without being attacked by your political opponents, Zahran believes. Violent acts were committed from both sides, but he said that witness accounts and videos prove the violence had been instigated by members of the brotherhood.
No unchecked powers
Without international observers, Zahran believes, a referendum under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood cannot be an option. Elijah Zarwan sees current developments as proof that the opposition is about more than just rejected individual measures by the Brotherhood.
"The main motivation of the opposition is that they believe that Morsi and the Brotherhood are going beyond the powers granted to them in the election," Zarwan said. According to him, the opposition wants to show that while the brotherhood has been elected to lead the country, "this does not mean they can just do whatever they want."