CAIRO: Efforts to resolve Egypt’s rapidly worsening political crisis suffered a blow on Wednesday when the army abruptly postponed “unity” talks that the opposition had minutes earlier said they would attend.
Confirmation that the secular, liberal opposition coalition would join the meeting after boycotting reconciliation talks hosted last week by Islamist President Mohamed Mursi had raised hopes of an end to street protests and deadly violence.
The latest convulsion in Egypt’s transition to democracy was brought on by a decree last month from Mursi in which he awarded himself sweeping powers to ram through a new constitution.
The constitution, to be voted on in a national referendum, is a necessary prelude to parliamentary elections due early next year.
Mursi’s move caused huge controversy, dividing the Arab world’s most populous state and bringing thousands of pro- and anti-government protesters onto the streets in the worst upheaval since the fall of Hosni Mubarak almost two years ago.
The unrest has so far claimed seven lives in clashes between the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition. But the army has yet to use force to keep protesters away from the presidential palace, now ringed with tanks, barbed wire and concrete barricades.
The postponement of the talks came as Egyptians abroad began voting at embassies in the referendum on the new constitution that Mursi fast-tracked through an Islamist-dominated drafting assembly.
The start of the voting process was a setback for the opposition, which had hoped to delay the plebiscite.
The main opposition coalition will push for a “no” vote in the referendum rather than boycotting it.
“We will vote ‘no’,” opposition politician and former Arab League chief Amr Moussa told Reuters. Another senior opposition figure also announced that the group would push for a “no” vote.