Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi on Saturday evening called for a national referendum on the new draft of the constitution to be held in two weeks’ time.
“After receiving this draft constitution, and out of keenness to build the nation’s institutions without delay or stalling, I will issue today the call for a public referendum on this draft charter on Saturday, Dec. 15,” Morsi said. “I pray to God and hope that it will be a new day of democracy in Egypt.”
Addressing the Egyptian people in a nationally televised speech, Morsi said that the referendum marks a milestone in realizing the January 25 revolution, and reiterated his calls for national dialogue in order to protect the nascent democracy.
Morsi urged Egyptians to participate in the referendum and praised the role of the judiciary in observing past elections. He said the referendum will be a brick in Egypt’s democratic experience.
Morsi urged those who opposed it to go out and vote. “With us all we build the nation,” he said.
As he announced the date, more than 100,000 of his supporters danced and chanted in celebration as they gathered in one of Cairo’s squares in support of efforts to rush through the draft charter.
The president received the draft constitution from the the Islamist-led panel that hurriedly approved the draft charter amid widening opposition from secular and Christian groups.
Opposition activist and Nobel Laureate Mohammed ElBaradei tweeted in reaction that “Morsi put to referendum a draft constitution that undermines basic freedoms and violates universal values. The struggle will continue.”
The announcement of the referendum came amid a week of protests against recent declarations by Morsi that placed him above the judicial oversight, and counter-protests by Morsi supporters calling for Islamic law in Egypt.
On Saturday, more than 100,000 protesters took to the streets in Egypt vowing to stop a draft constitution that Islamist allies of President Mohammed Morsi approved early Friday in a rushed, all-night session without the participation of liberals and Christians.
Dozens of opposition protesters attempted to reach Morsi’s home in the city of Zagazig north of Cairo, but were blocked by security forces, local media reported.
“Constitution of Shame,” read the headline of opposition daily Al-Wafd to be printed Sunday morning.
Almost all liberal and secular members of the assembly had quit in the past weeks to protest what they called Islamists’ hijacking of the drafting process.
As a result, 85 members — almost all Islamists, with no Christians — participated in the session that began Thursday. The voting, which had not been expected for another two months, was hastily moved up to approve the draft before the Supreme Constitutional Court rules on Sunday on whether to dissolve the controversial assembly.
AP contributed to this report.