A political party led by a prominent Egyptian Islamist said Monday it would boycott this week’s referendum on the country’s new constitution to protest the arrests of people campaigning against it. The announcement by The Strong Egypt party of Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh came on the eve of voting on the charter, the first step in a military-backed transition road map put in place after the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in a popularly-backed coup last July. The charter had been drafted in 2012 by an Islamist-dominated panel under Morsi, but was suspended after the coup and heavily amended by two panels under the interim government. While limiting the role of Islamic law in legislation, the charter consolidates military privileges such as the ability to try civilians in front of military tribunals in specific conditions.
The Jan. 14-15 vote provides the country’s increasingly popular military chief, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, with a first electoral test since he ousted Morsi. A comfortable “yes” vote and a respectable turnout would be seen as bestowing legitimacy, while undermining the Islamists’ argument that Morsi remains the nation’s elected president.
To secure the vote from possible disruption, some 350,000 police and army troops including special forces and paratroopers backed by armored vehicles and helicopters are to be deployed in the streets across the country.
Morsi’s Brotherhood, which fell from power and is now branded as a terrorist group, has called for a boycott of the vote as well.