Arab dailies lead off with reports that the coalition of Egyptian opposition parties, the National Salvation Front, has reversed its previous call for a mass boycott of Saturday’s referendum on the new Egyptian constitution and is now calling on its supporters to flock to the polls to vote “no.”
“Egypt: National Salvation Front announces its participation in the constitutional referendum, and calls for a ‘no’ vote,” reads the headline in the Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, which features a photo of an Egyptian woman submitting an absentee ballot at the Egyptian Embassy in Kuwait. Although national voting on the referendum does not begin in Egypt until Saturday, absentee voting for Egyptians living abroad commenced Tuesday.
At a press conference held yesterday evening, Hamdeen Sabahi, the head of the left-wing Dignity party and a leading member of the opposition, announced the National Salvation Front’s support for the referendum as long as the Egyptian government promises it will be carried out with full judicial oversight and security protection for voters of all political persuasions, and with the results published in detail immediately upon their release.
While emphasizing that “the only pathway out of the current political impasse is for the president to postpone the referendum for two or three months to allow for serious dialogue,” Sabahi also vowed that the opposition would utilize “all peaceful means to defeat the distorted constitution,” including urging its followers to go out and vote.
The opposition’s decision has caught everyone on the Egyptian political scene by surprise, including its own members. Cairo-based Al-Masry Al-Youm reports that just yesterday, Mohammed ElBaradei, another leader of the opposition and the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, posted on his Twitter account that the government’s “insistence on a referendum while the homeland is torn apart and the people are boiling, with an absence of security and with the media under siege, demonstrates a lack of a sense of responsibility towards the national interest.”
‘Insistence on a referendum while the homeland is torn apart and the people are boiling, with an absence of security and with the media under siege, demonstrates a lack of a sense of responsibility towards the national interest’
Meanwhile, in another twist, the Egyptian military abruptly canceled a scheduled dialogue to repair relations between the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Salvation Front, which both sides had previously agreed to attend, the London-based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reports. When pressed for an explanation, Egyptian Defense Minister General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stated that the military saw too great a chance for negative repercussions if the dialogue broke down.
Unidentified sources told the paper that the cancellation actually stemmed from the military’s desire to not appear as if it alone was managing Egypt’s national dialogue.
Whatever the case, the risk for sectarian strife is only rising. Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood are claiming that 80 percent of the demonstrators in front of the presidential palace are Copts trying to overthrow Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, according to a story in Elaph.
Mohamed El-Beltagy, the secretary-general of the Freedom and Justice Party, and Khairat Al-Shater, the deputy chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood, went so far as “to accuse the church itself and Coptic businessmen of funding the demonstrations.”
Coptic and liberal leaders did not hesitate to denounce the conspiracy theory.
“We urge Egyptians not to fall for the Brotherhood’s trap to drive a wedge between Muslims and Christians,” said Dr. Naguib Gabriel, a Coptic lawyer close to the church. “They are only trying to exhort Muslim militant groups to target Copts.”
Assad regime suffers hits on all fronts
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government took another direct hit when a car bomb blew up the outside of the Interior Ministry in western Damascus, London-based Al-Hayat reports. Leaders of the Syrian National Coalition, the political body of the rebels, are growing confident that strikes like these are finally bringing the regime to its knees, and they are now formally requesting Western and Arab nations to supply them with weapons and combat training.
Unfortunately for them, that’s still not in the cards, even after 114 nations recognized the Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people at the Friends of Syria conference yesterday in Marrakech, Morocco. Some countries are, however, beginning to pledge humanitarian assistance “to help alleviate the suffering for the Syrian people,” including Saudi Arabia, which pledged $100 million immediately after the conference. But will that be enough?
Speaking to the conference, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal said, “We stand on the cusp of stopping the use of chemical weapons in this internecine war.” He urged other countries to contribute as well, but stopped short of calling for an arming of the rebels; perhaps due to fears that the Assad regime might strike out against it in a last-ditch effort to hold onto power.
‘We stand on the cusp of stopping the use of chemical weapons in this internecine war’
Other nations have hesitated to supply weapons since the US government formally declared the Al Nusra front, a central militia among the rebels, a terrorist organization.
Maaz Khatib, head of the Syrian National Coalition, told Al Jazeera at the Friends of Syria conference that the decision to consider the Al Nusra Front a terrorist organization needs review, but praised attendees for their “agreement to overthrow the criminal Syrian regime.” Other coalition members, including the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, called the definition “hasty, wrong, and unacceptable” and asked international bodies to review the position.
How the rebellion and a transfer of power to the rebels will proceed is anyone’s guess. What there is now, at least, is international consensus that President Assad’s days as the recognized leader of Syria are officially over.