* Opposition calls for protests on Tuesday
* Narrow victory leave Mursi in economic policy bind
* Second stage of referendum to be held on Saturday
* More support for measure likely in second round
By Giles Elgood
CAIRO, Dec 17 Egypt's opposition called for
nationwide protests against a constitution backed by President
Mohamed Mursi, after a vote exposed deep divisions that could
undermine his efforts to build consensus for tough economic
The Islamist leader won a 57 percent "yes" vote for the
constitution in a first round of a referendum at the weekend,
according to state media, a margin that was less than his party
had hoped for and which is likely to embolden the opposition.
The second round, due to be held on Saturday, is expected to
give another "yes" as voting will be in districts seen as even
more sympathetic towards Islamists, which would mean the
constitution should be approved.
The opposition National Salvation Front urged the organisers
of the referendum to investigate what it said were widespread
voting violations and ensure that the second round of balloting
was properly supervised.
It called for protests across Egypt on Tuesday "to stop
forgery and bring down the invalid draft constitution" and urged
organisers to consider re-running the first round of voting.
Senior opposition politician Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel
prize winner, used his Twitter account to call for "cancelling
the notorious referendum and entering dialogue to mend the
The closeness of the first-round tally and the low turnout
give Mursi scant comfort as he seeks to assemble support for
difficult economic reforms to reduce the budget deficit.
One newspaper calculated that in the first round, out of
every 100 Egyptians, 18 voted "yes", 13 voted "no" and the rest
did not participate, buttressing opposition claims that Mursi
had failed to secure real backing.
Simon Kitchen, a strategist at Egyptian investment bank
EFG-Hermes, said much would depend on whether Mursi took the
result as "an endorsement of his policies ... or does he
recognise that he may need to spend more time building consensus
ahead of major policy changes?"
"I think he will continue to push ahead on reforming taxes
and subsidies because, at this stage, Egypt has little choice
but to make such reforms," he said.
However, some analysts said they remained concerned by
voting patterns that seemed to show a deepening sectarian
divide, notably in Alexandria, Egypt's second city, where
tensions between Christians and conservative Muslims run high.
The result of the first round of voting cast serious doubts
on the credibility of the constitution, said Mustapha Kamal
Al-Sayyid, a professor of political science at Cairo University.
"This percentage ... will strengthen the hand of the
National Salvation Front and the leaders of this Front have
declared they are going to continue this fight to discredit the
constitution," he said.
"The polarisation is far from being ended," Sayyid told
Reuters. "The unpopularity of Mursi will increase with economic
measures he is planning to introduce."
If the constitution passes, national elections can take
place early next year, something that many hope will usher in
the stability that Egypt has lacked since the fall of Hosni
Mubarak nearly two years ago.
Economists said the parliamentary election timetable could
affect the timing of government reforms, encouraging Mursi to
delay tougher measures to avoid scaring away voters.
To rein in a crushing budget deficit, the government needs
to raise revenues with tax rises and to cut back on subsidies on
fuel, one of the biggest drains on state coffers.
Both will be unpopular, and the government has outlined
plans to target fuel subsidies more directly at the poor, in a
nation where everyone has become used to cheap energy.
Reflecting investors' concerns, the cost of insuring Egypt's
debt against default climbed to trade around three-and-a-half
month highs, rising to 490 basis points on Monday from 480 on
Friday, the day before the vote.
Uncertainty surrounding economic reform plans has already
forced the postponement of a $4.8 billion loan from the
International Monetary Fund. The Egyptian pound has fallen to
eight-year lows against the dollar.
Mursi and his backers say the constitution is vital to
moving Egypt's democratic transition forward. Opponents say the
document is too Islamist and ignores the rights of women and of
minorities, including Christians who make up 10 percent of the
The build-up to the forst-round vote was marred by violent
protests. Demonstrations erupted when Mursi awarded himself
extra powers on Nov. 22 and then fast-tracked the constitution
through an assembly dominated by his Islamist allies and
boycotted by many liberals.
Despite earlier violence, the vote passed off calmly,
although unofficial tallies indicated turnout was around a third
of the 26 million people eligible to vote this time. The
referendum is being held over two days because many of the
judges needed to oversee polling staged a boycott in protest.
Violence in Cairo and other cities plagued the run-up to the
referendum. At least eight people were killed when rival
factions clashed during demonstrations outside the presidential
palace earlier this month.
In order to pass, the constitution must be approved by more
than 50 percent of those casting ballots. There are 51 million
eligible voters in the nation of 83 million.