Egyptians abroad began voting yesterday in a referendum on the new constitution that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi fast-tracked through an Islamist-dominated drafting assembly, in a setback for the opposition, who had hoped to delay the process.
The official state news agency reported that voting had started at Egyptian embassies abroad, on the same day the Egyptian army scheduled talks between rival factions.
Voting on the referendum in Egypt will be spread over two days: Saturday and Dec. 22.
The liberal, secular opposition said that the chaotic protests and counter-protests which followed Morsi’s assumption of sweeping new powers late last month meant the referendum should be postponed, but large opposition rallies this week did not change the Islamist president’s mind.
State media said the two-day voting plan had been adopted because many of the judges needed to oversee the vote were staying away in protest at the decision to hold the referendum, so voting had to be staggered to move the judges around.
Morsi was anxious to push through the new constitution as it must be in place before national elections can be held.
In response to the growing political crisis surrounding the referendum, Egypt’s military chief was to host national unity talks in Cairo yesterday.
Egyptian Minister of Defense Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is also the head of the armed forces, said the talks would not be political in character.
Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the party that propelled him to the presidency in a June election, were expected to attend, while the main opposition coalition said it would decide yesterday morning whether to participate. The opposition stayed away from an earlier reconciliation meeting called by Morsi last weekend.
Outside the presidential palace — where anti-Morsi protesters are demanding postponing the vote on a constitution they say does not represent all Egyptians — there was skepticism about the talks.
The army dominated Egypt throughout the post-colonial era, providing every president until former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was overthrown last year and oppressing the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Talks without the cancelation of the referendum — and a change to the constitution to make it a constitution for all Egyptians and not the Brotherhood — will lead to nothing and will be no more than a media show,” 35-year-old office worker Ahmed Hamdy said.