Egypt (MNN) — Mass demonstrations and violent clashes are nothing new for Egypt. The most recent turmoil started in late November, when President Morsi made a huge power-grab. Then came the draft constitution, pushed through Parliament at super speed without input from Christian or liberal members.
But the results of Saturday's vote could alter the face of Egypt. On December 15, Egyptians will head to the polls to vote on a constitution that's heavily influenced by Sharia law.
"The concerns about the constitution are many," says Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs USA. According to human rights experts, Muslim clerics could lawfully restrict freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and women's rights, if the new constitution stands as-is.
The new constitution is especially restrictive to Egyptian's Christians, comprising 10% of the country's total population. After Christian voices were "muted" in the composition of Egypt's draft constitution, believers turned to the newly-elected pope to speak up for their rights.
But so far, Pope Tawadros has taken the backseat on politics, a stark contrast to his predecessor's adamant advocacy of religious freedom, Nettleton notes.
"He has said, 'Listen, I am an official of the Church. I need to be more concerned about worshipping God. I need to be more concerned about what the Bible says than about what's going on in our government and how to respond to that,'" states Nettleton.
"As we head into the weekend, and as we head into the people voting on the new constitution, that's really the key thing so far: we don't know who's going to step forward."
Nettleton adds, "Even if that person was identified, do they have time to…make a difference in this process?"
Whatever Egypt's people decide on Saturday will not only change the fate of the populace: it'll trigger a ripple-effect in surrounding nations, Nettleton remarks.
"They talk about Saudi Arabia being the heart of Islam, and they talk about Egypt being the brain of Islam," he explains. "What happens in Egypt does have repercussions around the Islamic world."
In light of this important decision, what are groups opposing Morsi, like the National Salvation Front, urging their followers to do?
"There are many who are saying, 'We've got to vote this constitution down. Vote 'no.' It does not represent our best interests.'" Nettleton continues, "There are some other parts of the opposition that are saying, 'Listen, this process is completely illegitimate. We should stay home and not vote at all.'
"Both sides are opposed to the constitution, but they're advocating a different response."
In spite of their differences, Nettleton says the entire constitutional process is having an interesting effect on these parties.
"Because of the way this is being handled and because President Morsi has overstepped some of the boundaries of his authority, that is really uniting the opposition parties," Nettleton explains. Prior to recent days, he says, the parties had been fractious. "In some ways, what [Morsi] has done has sort of united people that otherwise would have been divided."
Since late November, political turmoil has turned Egypt sideways and upside down. Pray.
"Particularly this week, as we head into the referendum on the new constitution, we just need to pray for wisdom for the Christians who are in Egypt," Nettleton urged. "Praying for God's protection over our Christian brothers and sisters is an important thing to pray for right now."
He also suggests praying for the new pope.
"We need to pray for him," states Nettleton. "We need to pray that he'll know how to respond and how to be a voice, when to be a voice, and when maybe to be quiet and not be a voice."