CAIRO: The Kefaya protest movement said on Wednesday a referendum on constitutional changes had been fixed in advance. A growing number of groups, including the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, have also called for a boycott of Monday s vote. The amendments include an anti-terrorism clause that enshrines sweeping police powers of surveillance and arrest. The government says the changes are reforms but opponents say they are a bid to shore up the ruling party s hold on power. We will tell people not to participate because it is a foregone conclusion the government will pass them, Abdelwahab El-Messiri, head of the Kefaya movement, said. They will fabricate the results. Why give it legitimacy? The government says all ballots are fair. International rights watchdog Amnesty International has called the amendments the greatest erosion of human rights since emergency laws were put in place in 1981 after the killing of President Anwar Sadat. The Brotherhood is likely to be hardest hit by the changes, which will bar political activity based on religion and could therefore quash the group s longstanding hopes for legal recognition as an official party. The changes, which parliament approved on Monday, would also allow the president to dissolve parliament unilaterally and weakens judicial oversight of elections, which have been marred by complaints of widespread irregularities. Messiri, a 68-year-old former literature professor who was once a member of the Brotherhood, said the changes would make permanent the measures taken after Sadat s death, deeply undermining the push for democratic reforms in Egypt. The amendments have abrogated everything … They have legalized the emergency laws, have made them part of the constitution, he said. It means the cancellation of the constitution, really. Kefaya came to prominence in 2005 when it opposed a fifth six-year term for President Hosni Mubarak and any move to pass the presidency on to his son, Gamal.
But Mubarak s re-election and a decline in US interest in political reform in Egypt have weakened the group and its protests have dwindled. The referendum had initially been widely expected to be held on April 4 but was pushed up to March 26, just a week after parliament approved the changes, and Messiri criticized the government for trying to force the amendments through quickly. The juggling around of the dates … has crystallized the whole thing as a farce, which we already knew it was, he said. He added a government arrest campaign could follow, especially if protests continued: We expect it … If protests come back that will make them really angry.