12/21/2012 03:18 EST | Updated 02/20/2013 05:12 EST

Egypt envoy to Canada calls for conciliation amid violent constitutional divide

OTTAWA - Egypt's ambassador to Canada issued an impassioned plea for reconciliation Friday to help his polarized country move beyond its worst political crisis since its president was deposed nearly two years ago.

Envoy Wael Aboulmadg called for compromise after the vast majority of Egyptian Canadians voted this past week to reject their new constitution, one that liberals and minority Christians say has an Islamist bent.

He appealed to liberals and conservatives among the Canadian-Egyptian population to dial help down the explosive rhetoric.

"They are all wonderful, kind, patriotic Egyptians, but too many are still sitting in their echo chambers with their like-minded friends," Aboulmadg told The Canadian Press in an interview Friday.

"As a concerned Egyptian, I think every side sitting in its own tent demonizing and vilifying the other is a dead end route because ultimately the country is going to have to move forward."

The final round of voting on Egypt's proposed new constitution resumes Saturday after three-quarters of the nearly 1,800 Egyptian Canadians who cast their ballots last weekend in the first round voted to reject it. That compared with the roughly 56 per cent who voted "yes" among the 17 million Egyptians who went to the polls last weekend.

Aboulmadg said he's not surprised by the high level of opposition to the constitution in Canada because there are more liberal-minded people in his country's diaspora.

"It's really obvious where Egyptians in Canada stand."

Egyptians themselves are more deeply divided over their new constitution, sparking the worst unrest since the uprising that drove President Hosni Mubarak from power almost two years ago.

Earlier this month, 100,000 protesters marched on the palace of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, calling for the cancellation of the referendum and demanding that a new constitution be written. At least 10 people were killed after Morsi's supporters attacked the protesters.

Aboulmadg, a constitutional lawyer and a human rights advocate, defended the draft constitution as an improvement, but said a more clearly worded document could help diffuse the tension in his country.

"I acknowledge that the constitution has imperfections, and stylistic problems and too much rhetorical content," he said.

"A good 25 per cent is rhetorical generalities, and constitutions don't need that. When you combine that with an environment that is highly suspicious of each other, it opens the door to people assuming the worst."

As Aboulmadg spoke Friday, the violence continued in Egypt, this time in the country's second city, Alexandria, as stone-throwing Muslim Brotherhood members joined forces with ultra-conservative Salafis to take on a group of young protesters. Riot police swinging batons fired canisters of tear gas to separate the two sides.

Egyptian Canadians appear to have aligned themselves firmly with the liberals and religious minorities in Egypt who accused Morsi of trying to impose ultra-conservative views.

Some of the "no" voters in Canada are part of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority, who say they are blatantly afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood. They accuse the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to convert other religions, and say they fear the group even while going about their lives in Canada.

Sheref Sabawy, a Coptic activist from Toronto who ran unsuccessfully for the Liberals in the last federal election, accused the Egyptian government of trying to thwart the "no" side by depriving people abroad of being able to go online and be able to update their voter registration information.

He said he was sent his voter registration information, but his wife, who has a Christian first-name, was not.

"Out of the Coptic people, very few people got an alert and managed to vote. I would say all the names that are visually Christian, like George or Daniel … they didn't receive this declaration by email," said Sabawy.

A Toronto woman, a Coptic Christian, said she had to go great lengths and expense to get her ballot mailed to the Egyptian embassy by last weekend's deadline.

Though she has spent the last generation building a life in Canada, raising two children to adulthood, the woman said he is terrified of the long reach of the Muslim Brotherhood, and would talk about the constitutional controversy only after being guaranteed full anonymity.

"I am threatened here as if I was there. There are all around us at this point. They are everywhere," she said.

"Of course, there are lots of them here. You don't know. Just go the subway every morning and see how many people are veiled. Oh, my God!"

Aboulmadg flatly rejected allegations that anyone was unfairly prevented from voting.

He said the turnout in Canada for last weekend's voting was roughly the same as for past ballots to elect a president and a parliament.

"I'm a lawyer, so when people make claims, I expect the onus is on them to substantiate it, to prove it," said Aboulmadg.

He said the Egyptian government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to send bureaucrats to North America and Europe on special missions to allow Egyptian emigrants to update their national identity cards so they will be eligible to vote. One such mission last year spent several weeks in Montreal and Toronto.

Unfortunately, he said, many Egyptian Canadians haven't bothered to update their documents so they could take part in the historic series of elections unfolding in Egypt during the past two years.