Morsi votes in referendum
Morsi votes in referendumAFP photo

Egypt's opposition mustered only a low turnout for protests late Tuesday against a draft constitution backed by Islamist President Mohammed Morsi that looks likely to be adopted in a weekend referendum second round, AFP reported.

According to the report, up to 2,000 people rallied outside the presidential palace and a few hundred more in Cairo's Tahrir Square. That was far fewer than in previous anti-Morsi protests over the past three weeks, some of which drew tens of thousands of demonstrators.

The demonstrations came ahead of Saturday's second round of voting in the referendum. In last weekend's first round, held in half the country's provinces, including the big cities of Cairo and Alexandria, 57 percent of voters backed the draft charter, according to unofficial tallies.

While that was less than Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood had been hoping for, the margin was expected to grow when more conservative, rural voters cast their ballots in the second round.

Some protesters on Tuesday said they would not accept the results of the referendum even if official results showed a majority backed the charter.

Morsi's camp argues the new charter is needed to bring stability to Egypt after months of turmoil since the early 2011 ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak.

The opposition is scathing of the document, which was written largely by Islamists, believing it weakens human rights protections, particularly for women, and sets the stage for a creeping advance towards Islamic sharia law.

Divisions over Morsi's rule and the draft constitution spilled over into vicious clashes between supporters and opponents of the president, with eight people killed and hundreds injured outside the palace on December 5.

Many of Egypt's 21,000 judges were keeping up their pressure on Morsi, charging that he was trying to undermine their independence. More than half are refusing to supervise the second round of the referendum.

On Monday Egypt's prosecutor general, appointed to the job just last month by Morsi, gave into demands of lower prosecutors by agreeing to resign next week.

Protesters converged on the prosecuting general's office at the High Court Sunday, refusing to leave until Talaat Abdallah resigned. The siege by the prosecutors ended Monday when Abdallah signed a resignation letter.

Meanwhile, thousands of Egyptian women have complained they were not allowed to vote in the first round of the vote because they were not veiled, and Christian women also said they were turned away

The key points of the controversial draft constitution are:

- Islam remains Egypt's official religion. The previous formulation that the "principles of sharia" are the main source of legislation is maintained.

However, these principles are broadened to include Sunni Muslim doctrinal interpretations.

- "Freedom of faith is guaranteed" -- but only for Islam, Christianity and Judaism, not for other religions.

- The president is limited to two consecutive four-year terms, not indefinitely as under Mubarak.

- The defense minister is chosen from within the military. Also, the military's budget will be decided by a committee dominated by military officers, effectively making it independent of civilian oversight.

 - Civilians will not be tried in military courts except in cases where the "crimes may harm the armed forces." The opposition and rights groups demand that this vaguely defined exception be removed.

- The charter upholds "the equality of citizens under the law without discrimination," but omits an explicit mention of equality of the sexes.

- Freedom of expression is protected -- except when it comes to "insults against physical persons" or "insults towards the prophets." Some fear those exceptions open the door to censorship.

- The state is the designated protector of "public morals and order."

- It is forbidden for Egypt to sign international treaties and conventions that go against the constitution.