CAIRO — Egypt's opposition called on its followers Wednesday 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 International Monetary Fund loan needed to revive the economy.
Wednesday's 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 include full judicial supervision, independent and international monitors and adequate security. If these conditions are not met, Morsi's opponents said, the opposition will call for a last-minute boycott. On Tuesday, the vast majority of Egypt's judges rejected any role in overseeing the referendum.
Egypt's crisis began Nov. 22 when Morsi issued decrees, since rescinded, that placed him above judicial oversight. 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.