CAIRO (AP) — A key referendum on Egypt's amended constitution will be held next month, the interim president said Saturday, calling on citizens to vote "yes" for a document he described setting the path toward a modern democratic state.
Adly Mansour said the vote is set for Jan. 14-15. The amended draft constitution, finalized earlier in December by a 50-member panel Mansour appointed, is a first step toward implementing a political transition plan activated by the military after it removed Islamist President Mohammed Morsi from power in July.
The charter replaces the constitution drafted by an Islamist-led panel, approved in a referendum last year that galvanized opposition against Morsi. Opponents considered the constitution then to be have an Islamist slant, giving religious interpretations a greater role in legislation and trampling on rights and freedoms.
Six months after it was adopted, millions took to the streets to protest against Morsi and demand he step down. Days later, the military removed Morsi from office, suspended the constitution.
The military chief then announced that Mansour, the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court at the time, would replace Morsi until presidential elections are held.
"After we wasted a long time, that passed slowly, heavily and harshly on many of Egypt's poor, it is time we complete our revolution and rebuild this nation to realize the popular aspirations and ambitions," Mansour said in a televised speech.
"The document in our hands today is a text that should make every Egyptian proud, and (it is) the correct starting point for building the institutions of the modern democratic state that we all aspire to," he said to an audience of government officials, and members of the panel that drafted the constitution.
Mansour said the amended charter upholds freedoms and rights, establishes the separation of powers, and respects Egyptians' moderate religious beliefs. Mansour appealed to opponents of the documents, and in clear reference to supporters of Morsi, to end their "stubbornness," stop "chasing illusions" and accept the transition plan.
Morsi supporters, largely Islamist groups led by the Muslim Brotherhood, have rejected his removal from office and held near daily protests against the military and the transitional government. They call for Morsi's reinstatement and a return to the 2012 constitution.
"I call on you to have the courage, to give up stubbornness and obstinacy— which we all know has had a cost on the security and interests of the people— and to join the national march and to stop chasing a mirage and illusions," Mansour said. "There is no turning back."
It is likely that Morsi supporters will boycott the upcoming referendum, although a formal announcement is expected this week.
"We are heading toward a boycott campaign," said Islam Tawfeeq, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's political party. "Participating in the referendum, even with a no vote, would be an implicit recognition of the legitimacy of the (military-backed) road map."
Amnesty International had said the new amended constitution is an improvement from the 2012 charter, guaranteeing women equality and criminalizing torture. But the group said the charter still falls short of Egypt's international human rights obligations— allowing for military trials for civilians and not fully protecting rights of expression and assembly.