Egyptian voters back constitution

Participants in the first Egyptian vote of the post-Morsi era have voted overwhelmingly in favour of approving a new constitution, state media reported on January 16th. Unofficial reports stated that 37 percent of the registered voters took part in the constitutional referendum, slightly more than in the vote under ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. About 90 percent of the voters approved the constitution. It is expected that the Election Commission will announce the official results on January 18th.

Enthusiasm for the poll seemed to contrast sharply between the country's north and south. In southern Egypt, the turnout was less than it had been in 2012, while in the north the turnout was significantly higher. The south has traditionally been a stronghold for Islamist groups, who almost all boycotted the poll in protest of Morsi's overthrow and a crackdown on Islamist dissent.

‘Backdrop of fear’
In its most recent statement late on January 15th, the Muslim Brotherhood accused Egypt's mostly pro-military media of falsifying reports on the turnout. "They are trying to cover-up their early defeat," said the statement from the Brotherhood-led Anti-Coup and Pro-Democracy Alliance, claiming the turnout was a mere 15 percent in southern Egypt and vowing to continue Brotherhood rallies.

The referendum's integrity has also been challenged by other opposition members and rights campaigners, who say the poll was conducted against a backdrop of fear. 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.

Following the referendum, Egypt's Interim President Adly Mansour is expected to announce a change in the army's transition plan and schedule presidential elections before the vote for the next parliament. In the buildup to the poll, General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the army chief who ousted Morsi last July, hinted he would view a strong yes vote and a high turnout as a reason to run for the presidency. According to the army’s spokesman, Ahmed Ali, the approval of the constitution by the people can be seen as an endorsement of Egypt’s new order. If Sisi runs for president, he is widely expected to win. Many Egyptians view Sisi as a decisive figure who can reinstate stability in Egypt after years of turmoil.

A boost to the military powers
The new constitution will boost the military powers, allowing the army to appoint a defense minister for the next eight years, and try civilians for attacks on the armed forces. It also stipulates that the military's budget will be beyond civilian oversight. Critics say the new constitution will strengthen state institutions that defied Morsi: the military, the police and the judiciary at the expense of the people.

The authorities maintain that the new constitution delivers more rights and freedoms, and is a crucial step on the road to stability. According to its supporters, the new constitution expands women’s rights and freedom of speech, going a long way from the Islamist-inspired wording of Morsi’s constitution, which was suspended following his overthrow. They say the new constitution will bring stability to Egypt after three years of turmoil.

Sources: Reuters, BBC, The Guardian, Al Jazeera

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