CAIRO Both sides of the Egyptian political divide planned major rallies for Friday.
CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey says government supporters are calling for a “yes” vote in this weekend’s referendum on a new draft constitution, which they’ve billed as a vote for Islam.
The opposition is fragmented and far less organized, deciding only a few days ago to urge its supporters to vote “no” rather than simply boycott the ballot.
The draft constitution was written by members of President Mohammed Morsi’s Freedom and Justice party — Egypt’s de facto political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood — and its Islamic hard-line political allies.
The largely secular opposition says the draft fails to represent all of Egypt’s 83-million people, and tramples on the rights of minorities, such as Christians.
Leading opposition figure Mohammed al-Baradei pleaded with the government to call off the referendum, but to no avail.
A major problem still facing the referendum is a lack of polling monitors. The Egyptian army and a local human rights group will have to do the job, because a significant number of judges have refused to oversee the voting, in protest over Morsi’s government and the controversial drafting process.
Without enough judges to be at each of the country’s 13,000 polling stations at once, the voting will have to be held over two days; first in major cities and then in the countryside.
Many Egyptians are simply growing weary after two years of political turmoil.
Adding to their woes is the political crisis’ effect on the economy.
The tourism industry has been hard-hit, and the government’s prospects of attracting foreign investment in other sectors is fast becoming a distant dream.
A $4.8-billion loan from the International Monetary Fund has been held back, pending political developments.
The biggest fear of all, however, is more violence, which remains a very real possibility as the two sides of the crisis prepare for their rival rallies later on Friday.
Eight people died and more than 700 were injured in violent clashes over the past two weeks, and some commentators are already warning that the country is teetering in the brink of what amounts to civil war.