Arrow-right Camera


Key Egyptian flays constitution, insists majority aren’t Islamist

Egyptian opposition leader Hamdeen Sabahi at his office in Cairo on Monday. (Associated Press)
Egyptian opposition leader Hamdeen Sabahi at his office in Cairo on Monday. (Associated Press)

CAIRO – One of Egypt’s leading opposition figures on Monday pledged continued resistance to his country’s Islamist-oriented constitution even if it is declared to have passed, contending that the process was fundamentally illegitimate.

Unofficial tallies say nearly two-thirds voted in favor of the draft constitution, but turnout was so low that opponents are arguing that the vote should be discounted.

Hamdeen Sabahi, who placed third in the nation’s first free presidential race over the summer, said in an interview with the Associated Press that the majority of Egypt’s people are not Islamists.

He argued that the string of election triumphs by President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group are the result of unfair electoral practices and key mistakes by the liberal opposition, particularly a lack of unity and organization.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is a minority – this is for sure. They get majority votes because of division within the opposition,” he said. “If there is transparency (in voting) and unity among civil groups, then surely the majority will turn from the Brotherhood.”

Sabahi said the Islamist groups in the country “for sure have tried to steal” the revolution that toppled authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak neat two years ago, “but we will prevent them.”

Sabahi said the National Salvation Front – a union of key opposition forces that coalesced in the fight against the draft constitution – is not calling for civil disobedience in rejection of the Islamist-drafted constitution, but for a new constitution.

The path toward such an outcome appears uncertain at best – especially as Sabahi rejected the notion, somewhat plausible in Egypt, of the military stepping in.

In a sign of the opposition leadership’s efforts to coalesce, Sabahi said the grouping would be led in the interim by Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the United Nations’ Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.

Only around 30 percent of eligible voters participated in the referendum. Of that number, unofficial figures estimate that 64 percent voted in support of it.

Sabahi said the low voter turnout shows people were not convinced by the Brotherhood’s slogans – nor with the opposition’s.

Under such circumstances, he said, it was illogical to enshrine the document as a constitution.

He said the NSF would now try to remain united for possible participation in upcoming parliamentary elections. He said the front has no immediate plans to unite under one party, but that as a coalition they could win a majority of seats if electoral laws mandated an end to political proselytizing in mosques and placed a limit on the funds used for campaigns.