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Little Compromise Ahead of Egyptian Referendum

  • Elizabeth Arrott

Army tanks and riot police are seen outside the presidential palace in Cairo, December 12, 2012.

Army tanks and riot police are seen outside the presidential palace in Cairo, December 12, 2012.

Three days before Egypt is to hold a referendum on a draft constitution, confusion and tensions continue to roil the political scene.

Egyptian protesters are holding firm to their rejection of the draft charter, keeping vigil outside the presidential palace in the capital. Inside the compound, where the perimeter is fortified by tanks, soldiers and concrete and metal barriers, the government has vowed to press on with Saturday's vote.

Egypt's judges are to oversee the vote. A referendum judiciary committee says the balloting will now take place for two days - this Saturday and the following. But a leading judges' association says 90 percent of its members will not take part.

An Egyptian expatriate living in Qatar casts his ballot on the new Egyptian constitution, in Doha, December 12, 2012.

An Egyptian expatriate living in Qatar casts his ballot on the new Egyptian constitution, in Doha, December 12, 2012.

Overseas voting is being held Wednesday.

Other contradictory statements emerged late Tuesday, when the nation's defense minister, Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, offered informal talks to bridge the divide between opponents and supporters of the constitution. But government officials later said that was a mistake and no such talks would be held.

At rival rallies in Cairo Tuesday night, liberal, secular and Christian protesters continued to demand a delay in the voting so that a new, and what they call a "more representative"document could be formed.

Tens of thousands of Islamists and other supporters of President Mohammed Morsi gathered a few kilometers away, waving Egyptian flags and the black banners favored by conservative and extremist Islamists. Government-supporters argue the draft charter reflects the democratic and Islamic nature of Egypt.

Egypt's already faltering economy continues to slide during the unrest. The government has announced it will put off a much-needed loan from the International Monetary Fund. The deal requires austerity measures that would likely further enflame tensions.
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