CAIRO -- Egypt's opposition called on its followers yesterday to vote "no" in a crucial referendum on a disputed constitution drafted by Islamist supporters of President Mohammed Morsi.
The decision came as Morsi's government forged ahead with its own plan, starting overseas voting in diplomatic missions for expatriates.
The moves reinforced the atmosphere of a nation in crisis, deeply divided over whether Egypt might move toward Islamic theocracy or retain its secular traditions.
More opposition protests were planned, judges remained on strike and there were concerns of further economic disarray after Egypt delayed a $4.8 billion IMF loan needed to revive the economy.
The call for a "no" vote followed a prolonged debate within the opposition over whether to boycott the referendum -- a threat that still hung in the air as the anti-Morsi camp laid down its conditions for participation. These included full judicial supervision, independent and international monitors, and adequate security.
At the heart of the standoff now is the draft charter, which Morsi's opponents contend allows religious authorities too much influence over legislation, threatens to restrict freedom of expression, and opens the door to Islamist control over day-to-day life. Yesterday, Hamdeen Sabahi of the National Salvation Front, the main opposition group, urged followers to "topple the constitution by voting 'no' " Saturday.
In another twist, Egypt's military withdrew a call for talks with the opposition, one day after proposing it. -- AP