CAIRO - Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi has called a referendum on a new constitution on December 15, amid rising tensions between supporters and opponents of the document.
I pray to God and hope that it will be a new day of democracy in Egypt, President Morsi said in a speech cited by Reuters on Saturday, December 1.
Morsi voiced hope that the approval of the new constitution will end Egypt's rocky transition process.
"I renew my call for opening a serious national dialogue over the concerns of the nation, with all honesty and impartiality," he said after receiving the final draft from the constituent assembly.
"We must move beyond the period of confrontation and differences, and get on to productive work."
The constitution is meant to be the cornerstone of democracy after three decades of army-backed autocracy under President Hosni Mubarak.
Yet drafting it has been divisive, exposing splits between newly empowered Islamists and their opponents.
Morsi's opponents took to the streets over the past days against a decree granting him sweeping powers.
Protesters in an open-ended sit-in in Cairo's Tahrir Square, which was also the focus of demonstrations against Mubarak, accuse Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood of trying to impose a flawed constitution.
Leading opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei said on Twitter that "struggle will continue" despite the referendum and that the draft constitution "undermines basic freedoms."
Liberal figures including former Arab League chief Amr Moussa pulled out of the constituent assembly last month, as did representatives of Egypt's Christian minority.
But Morsi dismisses the accusations, describing the document as a constitution that fulfilled the goals of the January 25, 2011 revolution that brought an end to Mubarak's rule.
"Let everyone - those who agree and those who disagree - go to the referendum to have their say," he said.
But supporters accuse opponents of seeking to undermine the Islamist president.
"Those in Tahrir don't represent everyone, Mohamed Noshi, 23, a pharmacist from Mansoura, told Reuters as he joined hundreds of thousands of supporters in a mass rally in Cairo on Saturday.
Most people support Morsi and aren't against the decree.
Morsi's supporters accuse judges of using the judiciary to undermine Egypt's elected institutions.
Hundreds of Brotherhood supporters gathered near the Supreme Constitutional Court, which was due to discuss the legality of the parliament's upper house. The court delayed its ruling on Sunday.
In June, the court dissolved the Islamists-dominated lower house of parliament.
Egypt cannot hold a new parliamentary election until a new constitution is passed.
To hold the referendum, Morsi will depend on the judiciary which has been on partial strike over the November 22 decree, and which he and the Brotherhood suspect of links to the Mubarak regime. Judges oversee elections in Egypt.
Vice President Mahmoud Mekky said he trusted the judiciary would supervise the vote, state news agency MENA reported.
Morsi is betting the Islamists' core supporters and ordinary Egyptians fed up with instability will pass the constitution.
"We want stability, Yasser Taha, a 30-year-old demonstrator at the Islamist rally in Cairo, told Reuters.Every time, the constitutional court tears down institutions we elect.