Egypt's Morsi moves elections earlier

Egypt's president, Mohammed Morsi, has moved the start of the country's parliamentary elections ahead by five days to April 22.

Complaints from Coptic Christians over original date

Protesters demonstrate against Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in front of the courthouse and Office of the Attorney General, which has been graffitied with anti-government slogans. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuteres)

Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi has moved the start of the country's parliamentary elections ahead by five days.

The first round of voting in Cairo and four other provinces will now be held on April 22, rather than April 27.

The president's spokesman said the move, announced Saturday, was needed after Coptic Christians complained the original date clashed with Easter. Morsi had announced the April 27 date on Thursday.

Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei called Saturday for a boycott of parliamentary elections, drawing immediate criticism from some within his movement who said it was a hasty decision.

The dispute showed the fragility of a fairly new opposition front forged after the deeply fragmented movement found little success at the polls since it led the 2011 uprising that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak. 

Opposition infighting would only help ensure that the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group remains Egypt's dominant political force after the next vote.

"[I] called for parliamentary election boycott in 2010 to expose sham democracy. Today I repeat my call, will not be part of an act of deception," Nobel laureate ElBaradei, who leads the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF), wrote on his Twitter account.

The comment reiterated a frequently heard opposition sentiment that democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi is acting like Mubarak.

Elections under Mubarak's three-decade rule were widely rigged and parliament was dominated by members of his ruling party. 

Morsi called for the elections in a decree late Thursday night — a four-stage vote starting at the end of April and concluding in June.

On Friday, ElBaradei said holding elections during this time of deep political polarization "is a recipe for disaster."

Morsi's Brotherhood accused the opposition of running away from the challenge.

Referendum vote very low

The opposition has accused Morsi and his Brotherhood backers of using election wins to monopolize power in tactics similar to the former regime.

They accuse Morsi of reneging on a promise to form an inclusive government representative of the Christian minority, women, and liberals.

In the country's last major vote, a hotly disputed constitutional referendum in December, ElBaradei urged his supporters at the last minute to participate and vote "No" after a debate within the opposition over whether to boycott.

The referendum was mired in controversy and rights groups criticized unchecked voting irregularities. 

The Islamists, accused of ramming the charter through a drafting panel that they dominated, won passage by more than 60 pe rcent, but turnout was low around 30 per cent. Critics said the document opened the way for imposing Islamic law more strictly in Egypt.