* Egypt says agrees timetable on $3 bln in oil arrears
* Prosecutor refers activists to trial after protests
* Hardline Islamist party urges support for constitution
* Footballer banned from internationals over Mursi support
By Tom Perry
CAIRO, Dec 5 Egypt's army-installed government
unveiled a timetable to pay $3 billion of $6.3 billion it owes
to foreign oil firms on Thursday, part of a campaign to revive
confidence in an economy hammered by three years of political
Five months after President Mohamed Mursi's downfall and
following a fierce crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood, the
government is trying to restore a semblance of normalcy by
moving ahead with a political roadmap and boosting the economy.
But criticism of the army-backed authorities has spread
recently to include secular activists angered at government
moves seen as a threat to political freedoms won by the 2011
uprising against president Hosni Mubarak.
On Thursday, prosecutors ordered three dissidents to stand
trial over protests ignited by a law that severely restricts the
right to demonstrate. They include Ahmed Maher, one of the
symbols of the 2011 uprising, who faces charges including
protesting without official permission.
Saying the country needed to be spared more instability, the
hardline Islamist Nour Party urged Egyptians to approve a new
constitution in a referendum that is an important milestone in
the political roadmap. Nour backed Mursi's ouster.
The government has pointed to the approaching referendum as
proof of political progress it hopes will propel the economy of
Egypt, whose instability worries the West because of its peace
treaty with Israel, proximity to Europe and control of the Suez
Canal, the shortest sea trade route between Asia and Europe.
Cairo aims to revive investment in the crucial energy sector
by paying off debts to foreign firms that extract its oil and
gas. Egypt's finances have been buoyed by $12 billion in
financial aid from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab
Emirates - states deeply hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Under a timetable announced on Thursday, the government will
pay off $3 billion of the debt to foreign firms in monthly
instalments until December 2017, the state news agency said.
Arrears of $1.5 billion will be paid straight away, it said,
following the government's announcement on Wednesday of final
approval of that sum. The government is in talks to agree a
timetable to repay the remaining $1.8 billion, MENA said.
It did not say with which firms the state was negotiating.
Financial disclosures by companies including BP, BG
Group, Edison SpA and TransGlobe Energy
show that Egypt owed them more than $5.2 billion at the
end of 2012.
Prior to the 2011 uprising, the oil and gas sector was a
major focus of foreign direct investment in Egypt.
"We have been on hold since the revolution, with minimal
exploration," said Mona Mansour, chief economist at CI Capital.
"An agreement is definitely a boost."
THE "ROAD TO STABILITY"
The government's ability to pay oil companies and
contractors suffered as tourists and investors left, cutting tax
revenue and eroding foreign exchange reserves.
Mursi's political demise, the latest twist in Egypt's
turbulent transition, kindled the worst bout of internal
conflict in its modern history. Security forces killed hundreds
of his supporters in the weeks after his ouster, and lethal
attacks on the security forces have become commonplace.
Some 200 soldiers and policemen have been killed.
Though it has been driven underground by a security
crackdown, the Muslim Brotherhood continues to organise protests
against a government it says stole power in a military coup
against a democratically elected leader.
It rejects the army's roadmap as illegitimate.
The Nour Party, which came second to the Brotherhood in the
parliamentary election two years ago, helped draft the new
constitution, which enhances the autonomy of the already
powerful military and strips out Islamist-inspired provisions.
"The constitution is considered a first step on the road to
stability that all Egyptians aspire to, and to preventing
sliding into a spiral of anarchy," party leader Younes Makhyoun
The referendum is to be followed by presidential and
parliamentary elections next year, though a last minute
amendment to the draft constitution completed earlier this week
has thrown the sequencing of the elections into doubt.
The change allows the interim head of state to call a
presidential election first. Lending weight to the arguments for
reversing sequence, Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa El-Din has
said he favours holding the presidential election first, saying
it will take much longer to hold parliamentary polls.
Pressing an official crackdown on dissent, the Egyptian
Football Association (EFA) suspended from international
competition a player who expressed solidarity with Mursi
supporters killed in the crackdown.
After scoring a goal in the final of the African Champions
League last month, Ahmed Abdelzaher of Egypt's Al Ahli flashed a
four-finger hand gesture seen as supportive of Mursi. The EFA
ruled that he had mixed "politics with sport".
(Editing by Michael Georgy and Mark Heinrich)