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December 20, 2014
Thursday, January 16, 2014

Egyptians back constitution

Polling station officials count ballots in the Egyptian capital Cairo on January 15, 2014. (AFP)

Egyptians overwhelmingly approved a new constitution by referendum, state media reported, a widely expected outcome that nudges army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ever closer to a bid for the presidency.

The vote advances a transition plan the military-backed government unveiled after deposing Islamist president Mohamed Mursi last July following mass unrest over his rule.

The constitution won wide support among the many Egyptians who favoured Mursi's removal. The Muslim Brotherhood had called for a boycott, saying the vote was part of a coup that deposed an elected leader and revived a brutal police state.

But the vote was also a sign of widespread yearning for a return to stability after almost three years of violent disorder that has crippled the economy, impoverishing many.

The next step is expected to be a presidential election for which Sisi - wildly popular among his supporters - appears the only serious candidate. He has yet to declare he will run.

Around 90 percent of the people who voted approved the constitution, state-run media reported. Al-Ahram, the state's flagship newspaper, said the constitution was approved by an "unprecedented majority", citing early results.

The authorities, who have billed the transition plan as a path to democracy, have also jailed leading Islamists and, in recent weeks, secular-minded activists, including prominent figures in the 2011 uprising against President Hosni Mubarak.

An Interior Ministry official said turnout appeared to be more than 55 percent in what was the first vote since Mursi's overthrow. A pro-Mursi alliance, which had called for a boycott, alleged fraud had occurred but offered no proof.

State media, on the other hand, gave a more conservative estimate of 40 percent turnout but said that the percentage of approval of the constitution exceeded 95 percent, according to initial estimates.

"Early indications point to the fact that Egyptians made history this week with a high level of participation in the vote on the draft Constitution," Ehab Badawy, Egypt's spokesman for the presidency, said in a statement.

"This vote represents a resounding rejection of terrorism and a clear endorsement of the roadmap to democracy, as well as economic development and stability."

A decree is expected within days setting the date for presidential and parliamentary elections, Al-Ahram reported. The official result is expected to be announced on Saturday.

The constitution was drafted by a 50-member committee appointed by decree. It deletes controversial Islamist-inspired provisions written into the basic law approved when Mursi was still in office, and strengthens the state bodies that defied him: the army, the police and the judiciary.

Some of the Islamists' opponents pointed to the result as proof of a popular mandate for Mursi's ouster. "The Egyptians write the Brotherhood's death certificate," Al-Youm Al-Sabea, a privately owned newspaper, declared on its front page.

Rights groups criticised the detention of seven activists from a moderately Islamist party campaigning for a "no" vote.

In a statement, the foreign ministry said they were arrested on suspicion of law-breaking and all but one of them, held in relation to a past conviction, had been released. It added that there was no ban on campaigning for a "no" vote.

The Brotherhood had called for protests during the voting. Nine people were killed on the first day of voting in clashes between its supporters and security forces. The Interior Ministry said 444 people were arrested during the two-day vote.

A student was killed and four others injured in clashes between opponents and supporters of Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood at Cairo University on Thursday, security sources said.

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Tags:  World  Egypt  General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi  Constitutional referendum  





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