MICHELE NORRIS, host:
In Egypt, the country's military rulers are charging ahead with the referendum. It's scheduled for Saturday and will determine who can run for president. Voters will be asked to approve amendments to Egypt's controversial constitution.
NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Cairo. And as she reports, the referendum is widely opposed by leaders of the country's recent revolution.
Dr. MOHAMED ELBARADEI (Opposition Leader): (Foreign language spoken)
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Nobel Laureate Mohammed Elbaradei is one of many opposition leaders calling on people to vote no this Saturday. On Twitter, he calls it an insult to vote on a referendum that in effect keeps former President Hosni Mubarak's constitution as the law of the land, even temporarily. Why rush at the expense of democracy, Elbaradei asks?
Mohammed Atteya, who heads the Army appointed committee supervising the referendum, argues the amendments were drafted by constitutional experts. At a news conference this afternoon, he called the vote a key step to transforming Egypt into a modern democracy.
Mr. MOHAMMED ATTEYA (Chairman, High Judicial Commission): (Through Translator) All eligible voters should participate. It doesn't matter whether the measures are accepted or rejected. Although, if they are rejected the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will have to fill the void.
NELSON: That means Egypt's military rulers could end up drafting their own set of rules as to who can run for president in the parliament in the coming months. That's not acceptable, not only to Elbaradei, but to the youth leaders of the revolution who forced Mubarak out of office.
Voters are being asked to approve or reject nine amendments to the current constitution. Some of the provisions are appealing to Egyptians, such as limiting future presidents to a maximum eight years in office, and limiting their power to impose a state of emergency to six months before having to put it to a public vote.
Mubarak, by comparison, maintained the intrusive and hated emergency law for all of his 30 years in office. But opponents say they are worried about other provisions, like those determining who can run for office and day-to-day powers of the president. They claim the measures unfairly benefit Mubarak's former colleagues and a handful of organized political movements, like the once banned Muslim Brotherhood.
Khaled Fahmy is History Department chairman at the American University in Cairo.
Professor KHALED FAHMY (Department of History, American University, Cairo): Many people when they had a close look don't like what they see. So we are at a bind. We want the army to get out of the picture as soon as possible. The army appears to want to do the same thing, they don't want to stay in power. That is why they're rushing to these constitution amendments.
NELSON: Fahmy says two recent opinion polls, conducted by the Egyptian army, showed the measures would likely to be voted down. He adds few Egyptians believe the referendum will be free and fair, given widespread allegations of ballot tampering and voter intimidation in November's parliamentary polls.
Prof. FAHMY: One of the basic problems with the previous system was the electoral system itself and the rigging in the vote, and the very lists of voters that were tampered with. We don't know where to go to actually vote and cast our ballots. None of this is clear and everything is so rushed, and people are panicking.
NELSON: Nevertheless, the army and transitional government show no signs of wanting to delay the vote. Referendum Chairman Mohammed Atteya says more than half of Egypt's 80 million in population is eligible to vote. He adds tens of thousands of Egyptian soldiers and police officers will provide security at polling stations, whose locations have yet to be announced.
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.
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