Morsi calls for referendum on constitution

Protesters in Tahrir Square chant slogans against the Muslim Brotherhood, with which President Mohammed Morsi is allied. That group is planning its own weekend demonstration.
Protesters in Tahrir Square chant slogans against the Muslim Brotherhood, with which President Mohammed Morsi is allied. That group is planning its own weekend demonstration. (KHALIL HAMRA / Associated Press)

The Dec. 15 vote is the next step in the fight between the Egyptian president and the Constitutional Court.

Posted: December 02, 2012

CAIRO - Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi called Saturday for a referendum in two weeks on a disputed draft constitution, as tens of thousands of his supporters celebrated the decision.

Morsi set the date for Dec. 15 in a nationally televised speech to the Islamist-led assembly that hurriedly approved the draft charter amid widening opposition from secular and Christian groups.

Egypt's Constitutional Court was due to rule Sunday on whether to dissolve the panel. If the judges decide to hold their session, whatever the decision, it is still a challenge and a continuation of the tug of war between Morsi and the powerful judiciary, which dissolved the Islamist-dominated parliament earlier this year.

"After receiving this draft constitution, and out of keenness to build the nation's institutions without delay or stalling, I will issue today the call for a public referendum on this draft charter on Saturday, Dec. 15," Morsi said. "I pray to God and hope that it will be a new day of democracy in Egypt."

Morsi urged those who opposed it to go out and vote. "With us all we build the nation," he said.

As he announced the date, more than 100,000 of his supporters danced and chanted in celebration as they gathered in one of Cairo's squares in support of efforts to rush through the draft charter.

The demonstrations - the largest turnout of Morsi supporters since he came to office in June - were seen as a show of strength for Islamists seeking to counter mass opposition protests held during the last week denouncing the president's decision to seize near-absolute power and the fast-tracking of the draft charter ahead of a Constitutional Court decision Sunday on whether to dissolve the panel.

Across the river, a few thousand of Morsi's opponents rallying in Cairo's Tahrir Square raised their shoes to show contempt for the announcement.

The referendum date placed the next move in the standoff in the hands of the Constitutional Court.

Judges, still smarting from Morsi's earlier decrees giving himself and the constitutional assembly immunity from judicial oversight, have threatened to boycott observing the referendum.

In his speech, Morsi appealed to the judges to carry out their duties, praising their national roles and adding that the state will not challenge their decisions or powers.

"I am sure that the judges of Egypt will be of help to their nation and people. No one can act outside legal legitimacy," he said in the official ceremony held for the delivery of the draft constitution attended by panel members, as well as Defense Minister Sheik al-Azhar, and the former prime minister picked by the military council that governed Egypt until Morsi's election.

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