CAIRO President Mohammed Morsi is unlikely to worry if Egypt's Islamist-leaning draft constitution passes by only a small margin in a Dec. 15 referendum, since he and his backers tout his 51 percent election victory in June as a "popular mandate" that is beyond any challenge.
Still, an idea taking root among many secular Egyptians is that a constitution requires a reasonable degree of consensus to qualify as a charter for all - and that it is fundamentally illegitimate to ram one through by a simple majority despite opposition from key sectors of society that oppose giving religion such a major role in the affairs of state.
"It is irrational to have a constitution that does not genuinely represent everyone," said Kahlil al-Anani, a British-based expert on Egypt. "It is important that a constitution is passed with a comfortable majority, but it does not make the document less credible if it is a modest majority."
The proposed constitution is at the heart of the nation's worst political crisis since the overthrow nearly two years ago of authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak. The charter has divided Egypt, with Morsi and his Islamist backers, including ultraconservative Salafis, in one camp, and secularists and leftists, including minority Christians and women, in the other.