The opposition held massive rallies last week, and several hundred are holding a sit-in in Tahrir, the epicenter of the uprising that forced Mubarak to step down last year. They have said they would only participate in a national dialogue if Morsi rescinds his decrees, which they said gave him near-dictatorial powers.
Prominent democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace laureate who is a member of the opposition coalition leadership, said on his Twitter account that Morsi put to a referendum a constitution that ‘‘undermines basic freedoms and violates universal rights. The struggle continues.’’
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood, in backing Morsi, have depicted the opposition as an elitist group that has not been able to muster success in the previous elections, including an earlier referendum during the military rule, and parliamentary elections that brought the Islamists to power.
Mohammed el-Beltagy, a senior Brotherhood member and a member of the constituent assembly, told the Brotherhood-affiliated TV station Misr 25, said the opposition was a media phenomenon.
‘‘We either go to the ballot boxes and let the people be the arbiter, or we can believe that the elite are a substitute for the people.’’
Islamists, including the Brotherhood and the more radical Salafi groups, garnered nearly 75 percent of the seats in last winter’s parliament election. But the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved the parliament in June, setting the stage for the current standoff.
In his speech, Morsi appealed to the judges to carry out their duties, praising their national roles and adding that the state will not challenge their decisions or powers.
‘‘I am sure that the judges of Egypt will be of help to their nation and people. No one can act outside legal legitimacy,’’ he said in the official ceremony held for the delivery of the draft constitution attended by panel members, as well as the defense minister, signaling military support.
Nasser Amin, the head of the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession, said Morsi was sending a subtle hint that he didn’t expect the judges to challenge his decrees.
He added that Morsi’s decision to call for a referendum despite a legal challenge hanging over the body that drafted it undermines the referendum’s legitimacy.
‘‘It will be a stillborn constitution,’’ he said.
Threatening to prolong the standoff, various groups, including religious clerics and university professors, have offered to observe the referendum in case the judges follow through with their threats to boycott it.
Despite wide opposition to the constitution and walkouts by secular and Christian representatives from the panel drafting the constitution, Morsi said the constitution establishes a real democratic system and ‘‘is going in the right direction.’’
Opponents say the draft charter has a distinct Islamist bent and rights groups have raised concerns about articles that undermine personal and women rights as well as freedoms of expression.
‘‘We want to overcome disagreements and bickering to move toward serious and productive work. There are massive challenges ahead in the future internally and externally,’’ Morsi said, referring to those who walked out of the panel or are criticizing the draft.
The opposition announced plans for an intensified street campaign of protests and civil disobedience and even a possible march on Morsi’s presidential palace to prevent him from holding a nationwide referendum on the draft. It is not clear whether the opposition can rally enough voters to shoot down the constitution in a referendum or organize a boycott campaign.