Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi called a Dec. 15 referendum on a draft constitution and urged a national dialogue on the "concerns of the nation" as the country nears the end of the transition from Hosni Mubarak's rule.
Mursi was speaking after receiving the final draft of the constitution from the Islamist-dominated assembly that wrote it.
He urged "all citizens to examine in detail and objectively the articles of the draft" constitution.
He reiterated his call "to reopen a real dialogue over the concerns of the nation ... to end the transitional phase as quickly as possible and protect our newborn democracy."
The constitution has taken center stage in the country's worst political crisis since Mursi's election in June, squaring Islamist forces against secular-leaning opponents.
Liberals, leftists and Christians walked out of the constituent assembly, leaving a largely Islamist panel in charge of drafting the charter which has been criticized for failing to represent all Egyptians.
"Mursi put to referendum a draft constitution that undermines basic freedoms & violates universal values. The struggle will continue," tweeted leading dissident and former U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei.
Mursi addressed the nation on Saturday night following the finalization of the draft constitution, amid mass rallies in the country turning out to support and oppose the president.
Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Cairo on Friday to pile pressure on Mursi after a panel dominated by fellow Islamists rushed through the controversial draft constitution.
The draft constitution, which was finalized following a 15 hour-long voting process by 85 members from the 100 member beleaguered assembly, is expected to be ratified by Mursi.
“Members of the Constituent Assembly, led by Judge Hossam El-Ghiriani, have arrived at the Cairo Conference Hall in Heliopolis suburb of Cairo to present President Mohammed Mursi with the draft constitution,” Egypt’s Ahram Online reported.
Mursi will review the draft on Saturday, said assembly head Ghiriani, and is then expected to call for a popular referendum within two weeks.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, along with fellow Islamist movements, called for mass rallies on Saturday to support Mursi, a day after thousands of the president’s opponents protested in several governorates to denounce the latest constitutional declaration.
Tens of thousands of anti-Mursi protesters have claimed over the past few days the draft restricts freedom of speech, minorities’ rights, and places other limitations on freedoms.
Protests also spread to Egypt’s second-largest city Alexandria on Friday, where several casualties were reported in the Sidi Gaber neighborhood, according to Al Arabiya’s correspondent.
The thousands protesting in front of Alexandria’s Al-Qaed Ibrahim Mosque, demanded the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, and urged Mursi and Prime Minister Hesham Qandil to step down, reported the privately-owned Egypt Independent.
Conditions escalated in Egypt after Mursi issued a controversial constitutional declaration on Nov. 22 granting him sweeping powers. The president said the decree is designed to speed up the democratic transition and will lapse as soon as Egyptians vote on a new constitution.
But the new charter, adopted after a marathon overnight session boycotted by liberals and Christians, raises serious human rights concerns, including about religious freedom, activists say.
Mursi will review the draft on Saturday, said assembly head Hossam el-Ghiriani, and is then expected to call for a popular referendum within two weeks.
Activists have lambasted the charter, saying it protects certain rights by undermines others.
“Rushing through a draft while serious concerns about key rights protections remain unaddressed will create huge problems,” Human Rights Watch’s Middle East director Joe Stork said in a statement.
Amnesty International said the draft “raises concerns about Egypt’s commitment to human rights treaties,” specifically ignoring “the rights of women (and) restricting freedom of expression in the name of religion.”
It pointed to an article that guarantees freedom of worship for Islam, Christianity and Judaism but makes no mention of other religions, thus “potentially excluding... religious minorities such as Baha’is and Shiites.”
The document stated that the “principles of Islamic law” are the main source of legislation, but added that this was to be interpreted along the tenets of Sunni Islamic rulings, a clause churches have opposed.
The draft also bans “insulting humans,” which activists say could censor political criticism of the president.