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Egyptian opposition won't sit out vote

By Reza Sayeh and Michael Pearson, CNN
December 12, 2012 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
  • NEW: Egypt's largest opposition coalition urges members to vote
  • NEW: But the National Salvation Front still wants to delay constitutional referendum
  • NEW: Egyptians living abroad begin voting on Wednesday
  • The vote in Egypt is scheduled for Saturday

Cairo (CNN) -- We'll vote, Egypt's opposition said Wednesday, ending speculation that the fractious coalition would boycott Saturday's referendum on a new constitution.

The leading opposition party National Salvation Front asked that the vote be postponed for a month, but said supporters should turn out to vote against it if the referendum proceeds as scheduled.

Read more: New voter rules announced ahead of Egypt referendum

The leader of the Dignity Party, Hamdeen Sabahi, also pledged to participate, but said the opposition wanted assurances that the election will be conducted fairly.

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Tensions in Egypt have run high since President Mohamed Morsy granted himself expanded presidential powers last month and an Islamist-dominated council rushed through a draft constitution that opposition groups say fails to adequately protect the rights of Egypt's religious minorities and women, among other issues.

Read more: Q & A: What's driving Egypt's unrest?

Protesters, police and Morsy supporters have clashed, violently at times, outside the presidential palace in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt, resulting in scores of injuries and some deaths.

In response, Morsy has given the military the authority to make arrests during the electoral run-up.

Read more: Morsy edict divides Egypt but unifies opponents, critics and observers say

The outcome of the election, and the unrest associated with it, are important to the stability of volatile North Africa and the Middle East -- where Egypt is a key player -- and the situation is being watched closely around the world.

Until Wednesday, the day when voting opened for Egyptians living abroad, it was not entirely clear how the major opposition parties would approach the referendum.

The National Salvation Front, a coalition of liberal and secular opposition parties, urged its supporters to participate if it's not able to get the vote put off for a month. Sabahi said the opposition wants close judicial and nongovernmental monitoring of the vote, a one-day referendum and immediate and detailed announcement of the results.

Opinion: Don't blame Muslim Brotherhood for Morsy power grab

The Strong Egypt party and the Egyptian Current party, both founded by former Muslim Brotherhood members, as well as the 6 April youth movement, which backed Morsy in the June elections, had previously decided to participate and urged members to vote no, according to the semiofficial Al-Ahram newspaper.

"We are organizing campaigns all over the country against the draft constitution, trying to explain to the people why we think that this is not the constitution of the revolution," Al-Ahram quoted 6 April founder Mohamed Adel as saying.

While many parties now say they will participate in the vote, Egypt's military said Wednesday that there was little interest in a meeting it had set up to foster dialogue among the nation's myriad political movements. The Defense Ministry canceled the meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, after many of those invited declined to attend.

The meeting might be held later, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch called on Egyptian prosecutors to look into the detention and treatment of protesters who the group said were detained and in some cases beaten December 5 by Muslim Brotherhood members.

"Unlawful detention and abuse occurring at the gates of the presidential palace, and in the presence of the riot police, raises real concerns that the presidential palace was aware of these abuses and did nothing to stop them," Human Rights Watch said Wednesday in a statement.

Reza Sayeh reported from Cairo. Michael Pearson reported and wrote this story from Atlanta.

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