Egypt to hold referendum in two stages due to shortage of judges


Egypt announced early on Wednesday that the upcoming constitutional referendum will be held in two stages, Dec. 15 and Dec. 22 due to a shortage of judges needed to oversee the process, Al Arabiya TV reported.

The decision came hours after the country’s Judges Club decided to boycott the process, refusing to oversee the planned plebiscite.

The club’s decision came after another a rival body -- the Egyptian Administrative State Council’s Judges Club – announced it would oversee the plebiscite.

Ahmad al-Zind, Egypt Judges Club chairman, said, judges from both campaigns seek to protect the country’s national interests despite their differences.

“We accept judge’s stances either way,” Zind said, “People from here can learn democracy.”

Zaghloul al-Burshi, head of the higher council responsible for overseeing the referendum, had told Al Arabiya in an interview on Monday that the committee has between 7,000 to 9,000 judges, which he said was “more than enough” to oversee the referendum.

Meanwhile, an Egyptian administrative court declared on Tuesday that it is beyond its specialty to consider cases against the constitutional declaration and President Mohammed Mursi’s call for the constitutional referendum.

Army calls for unity

Meanwhile, Egypt’s powerful army called for President Mursi and the secular opposition to meet to resolve a deepening crisis over a constitutional referendum as the rival camps organized mass protests Tuesday, AFP reported.

General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, the country’s armed forces chief and defense minister, made the appeal “for the sake of Egypt” to all political groups and movements to meet on Wednesday at a Cairo military sports complex, according to a statement posted on the military’s official Facebook page.

It came as tens of thousands of protesters filled Cairo streets to demonstrate for and against the referendum called for Saturday on a draft constitution backed by Morsi and his Islamist allies.

Despite fears the rival rallies could mix, sparking clashes like those seen outside the presidential palace last week when seven people were killed, there were no immediate reports of any violence at Tuesday’s demonstrations.

Troops nevertheless had orders from the president to use police powers to protect “vital state institutions” if needed.

Outside the palace, thousands of opposition protesters tore down a metal and concrete barricade to denounce the Saturday referendum, forcing hundreds of soldiers back.

But they made no move to storm the palace itself, and stood around in festive spirits chanting anti-Mursi slogans.

“We are here to say: ‘Down with the illegitimate constitution’... If the referendum happens we will have to vote. But hopefully it won’t,” said one protester, Ahmed Badawy, 29.

At a much bigger Islamist counter-demonstration a few kilometres (miles) away gathering tens of thousands of referendum supporters, the mood was equally calm but determined.

“It’s the last battle for Islam against the secularists who want to ruin Egypt,” said Ahmed Alaa, who was bussed in from the north of the country.