A major Islamist party in Egypt said Monday it will boycott this week’s referendum on a new constitution amid reports from a prominent human rights group that the government is arresting party members campaigning for a “no” vote.
The Strong Egypt party said at the last minute that it will not partake in the two-day referendum beginning Tuesday. The referendum is being organized by the military-backed interim government after the ouster of the democratically-elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July.
Human Rights Watch said on Monday that at least seven activists from the Strong Egypt party were arrested and some were beaten after they were spotted hanging posters calling for a “no” vote. “Egyptian citizens should be free to vote for or against the new constitution, not fear arrest for simply campaigning for a ‘no’ vote,” Joe Stark, Middle East and North Africa deputy director at HRW, said in a statement.
The nation will vote on its second constitution since the uprising against authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak in early 2011. The constitution is widely expected to win approval from the Egyptian majority that has welcomed promises of stability from the new government. The state news agency reported that well over 95 percent of votes cast abroad supported the new constitution in voting last week.
The interim government suspended the previous charter drafted under the Islamist-led government and has since cracked down on the opposition, arresting the leadership of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters in the street. On Sunday, a court extended the detention of the April 6 Youth Movement that was a symbol of popular activism during the 2011 “Arab Spring” protests. The members of the group, which also plans to boycott this week’s referendum, were arrested late last year amid clashes during a protest against a new law banning freedom of assembly without prior authorization from the police.