Early signs show Egypt's new constitution passing

CAIRO Sat Dec 22, 2012 6:35pm EST

1 of 27. A man leaves a voting centre after casting his ballot in the final stage of a referendum on Egypt's new constitution in Giza, south of Cairo, December 22, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Khaled Abdullah

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Early indications showed Egyptians approved an Islamist-drafted constitution after Saturday's final round of voting in a referendum despite opposition criticism of the measure as divisive.

An official from the Muslim Brotherhood's political party, which backs Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, said that after nearly 4 million votes had been counted there was a majority of 74 percent in favor of the constitution.

Exit polls from the opposition National Salvation Front also showed the constitution passing, an official said.

Last week's first round returned 57 percent in favor of the constitution, according to unofficial data. The vote was split over two days as many judges refused to supervise the ballot.

The referendum committee may not declare official results for the two rounds until Monday, after hearing appeals.

Islamist backers of Mursi say the constitution is vital to move to democracy, nearly two years after an Arab Spring revolt overthrew authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak. It will provide stability for a weak economy, they say.

But the opposition accuses Mursi of pushing through a text that favors Islamists and ignores the rights of Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, as well as women.

"I'm voting 'no' because Egypt can't be ruled by one faction," said Karim Nahas, 35, a stockbroker, heading to a polling station in Giza, in greater Cairo.

At another polling station, some voters said they were more interested in ending Egypt's long period of political instability than in the Islamist aspects of the charter.

"We have to extend our hands to Mursi to help fix the country," said Hisham Kamal, an accountant.

VICE PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES RESIGNATION

Hours before polls closed, Vice President Mahmoud Mekky announced his resignation. He said he wanted to quit last month but stayed on to help Mursi tackle a crisis that blew up when the Islamist leader assumed wide powers.

Mekky, a prominent judge who said he was uncomfortable in politics, disclosed earlier he had not been informed of Mursi's power grab. The timing of his resignation appeared linked to the lack of a vice-presidential post under the draft constitution.

Rights groups reported alleged law violations during voting. They said some polling stations opened late, that Islamists illegally campaigned at some of them, and complained of voter registration irregularities, including listing of a dead person.

The new basic law sets a limit of two four-year presidential terms. It says sharia law principles remain the main source of legislation but adds an article to explain this further. It also says Islamic authorities will be consulted on sharia - a source of concern to Christians and other non-Muslims.

If the constitution passes, there will be parliamentary elections in about two months.

After the first round of voting, the opposition said alleged abuses meant the first stage of the referendum should be re-run.

But the committee overseeing the two-stage vote said its investigations showed no major irregularities in voting on December 15, which covered about half of Egypt's 51 million voters. About 25 million were eligible to vote in the second round.

MORE UNREST

If the charter is approved, the opposition says it is a recipe for trouble since it will not have received sufficiently broad backing and that it will not have been a fair vote.

"I see more unrest," said Ahmed Said, head of the liberal Free Egyptians Party and a member of the National Salvation Front, an opposition coalition formed after Mursi expanded his powers on November 22 and then pushed the constitution to a vote.

Protesters accused the president of acting like a pharaoh, and he was forced to issue a second decree two weeks ago that amended a provision putting his decisions above legal challenge.

Said cited "serious violations" on the first day of voting, and said anger against Mursi was growing. "People are not going to accept the way they are dealing with the situation."

At least eight people were killed in protests outside the presidential palace in Cairo this month. Islamists and rivals hurled stones at each other on Friday in Alexandria, the second-biggest city. Two buses were torched.

Late on Saturday, Mursi announced the names of 90 new members he had appointed to the upper house of parliament, state media reported, and a presidential official said the list was mainly liberals and other non-Islamists.

Mursi's main opponents from liberal, socialist and other parties said they had refused to take any seats.

Two-thirds of the 270-member upper house was elected in a vote early this year, with one third appointed by the president. Mursi, elected in June, had not named them till now. Mursi's Islamist party and its allies dominate the assembly.

(Additional reporting by Tamim Elyan and Shaimaa Fayed; Writing by Edmund Blair and Giles Elgood; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Jason Webb)

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Comments (12)
COindependent wrote:
Be careful what you wish for. The promotion of democracy as we practice it in western society, does not necessarily translate well in countries that have no background in liberty. These countries will get exactly what they vote for–theocratic dictatorships along the lines of Iran. The future does not bode well for them.

Dec 22, 2012 10:28am EST  --  Report as abuse
MPA wrote:
LOL! The article is obviously written by a Jew or opposition supporter. Frequent use of the word “Islamist”, calling the victories by the Brotherhood as “narrow”, when the only narrow vote was that of the Presidency.

Constant refusal to explain why the article refers to the constitution as “Islamist”, other than quoting others is nothing but yellow journalism.

Dec 22, 2012 11:23am EST  --  Report as abuse
For three decades, the US supported a dictator who did not attack Israel. However, he wisely pointed out to every visiting US official that solving the question of Palestine/Israel was an essential first step for the US to attain its goals in the Middle East. The US failed to prevent Israeli ethnic cleansing or “new settlements” in territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. UN recognition of Palestine as a non member state means that Palestine can seek redress from the World Court for Israel’s crimes against humanity.

For this article, the Muslim Brotherhood does not adhere strictly to Israeli demands that smuggling into Gaza must be controlled. That is only one area in which this Egypt will differ with some US desires for support of Israel, especially when some Israeli acts don’t deserve, and never deserved, US support. In addition, Egypt’s new government will have different views on the limits of human rights, freedoms, expressions, and laws required to protect individual “liberties.” The new Egypt will set up its own government with its own policies, and the US will need to adjust. Our recent debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq, coupled with three technology, corporate, and financial crises in the US, have drastically reduced US abilities to engage in new foreign debacles. The US must be content to watch other countries become themselves whether some US groups like their policies or not.

Dec 22, 2012 1:52pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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