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An exceptionally divisive referendum on an Islamist influenced draft constitution began Wednesday in Egypt, as liberals and other opposition factions backed down from a proposed boycott. Their decision came after two weeks of often-violent protests, pitting the Islamist dominated government against secular and minority groups.
According to The Globe and Mail, members of the opposition, especially liberals, fear a new constitution “short on fundamental freedoms and long on Islamist principles.”
The document was the result of an accelerated drafting process ordered by President Mohammed Morsi, dominated by Islamists after secular and minority representatives boycotted the draft, complaining of an imbalance. The opposition initially threatened a boycott of the referendum, but eventually backed down.
The New York Times claimed liberals were pressured by Islamists’ charges that they were unprepared to accept the results of a democratic election, besides a desire for economic stability in Egypt after years of turmoil. The opposition was, however, jolted by a Cairo court’s decision to sentence an atheist from a Christian family to three years in prison for insulting religion. Blasphemy is a crime in the new constitution.
Both sides are proceeding cautiously, eager to safeguard their values while avoiding the instability and street confrontations common since the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.