CAIRO (Reuters) — Egypt's new constitution
was overwhelmingly approved in a referendum, state media reported on
Thursday, an expected victory that nudges army chief General Abdel
Fattah al-Sisi ever closer to a bid for the presidency.
The vote advances a transition plan the army unveiled after
deposing Islamist president Mohamed Mursi last July. The next step
is expected to be a presidential election for which Sisi, 59,
appears the only serious candidate.
Some 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 constitution won wide support among the many Egyptians who
backed the army's removal of Mursi. There was little trace of a "no"
campaign as the state pressed a crackdown on dissent.
Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood had called for a boycott, seeing the vote
as part of a coup that deposed a leader freely elected 18 months ago
and revived an oppressive police state.
An Interior Ministry official said turnout appeared to be more than
55 percent. It was the first vote held since Mursi was overthrown
following the June 30 mass protests against his rule.
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 Islamists' opponents pointed to the result as proof of a popular
mandate for the removal of Mursi. "The Egyptians write the
Brotherhood's death certificate," Al-Youm Al-Sabea, a privately
owned newspaper, declared on its front page.
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.
The authorities, who have billed the transition plan as a path to
democracy, have also jailed moderate Islamists and secular-minded
activists in recent weeks, including prominent figures in the 2011
uprising against President Hosni Mubarak.
STOCK MARKET RALLY
The referendum has been seen as a public vote of confidence in Sisi,
widely viewed as the most powerful figure in Egypt and the man
needed to restore stability.
Sisi appeared to link a possible presidential bid to the outcome of
the vote, saying on Saturday he would need the support of the nation
and the army to run.
The stock market has rallied to three-year highs this week, driven
partly by hopes for more stable government.
But the country has also seen the bloodiest internal strife in its
modern history since Mursi's ouster. Bombings, attacks on security
forces and bloody street violence occur regularly.
The government declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization on
December 25. The group, outlawed for most of its 85-year life, says
it remains committed to peaceful protest.
A Sisi presidency would turn back the clock to the days when the
post was controlled by military men and could kill off any hope of a
political accommodation with the Islamist opposition.
"You could see the re-emergence of a domineering president," said
Nathan Brown, a professor of political science at George Washington
University and an expert on Egyptian affairs.
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.
At many polling stations, the referendum appeared to be a vote on
Sisi himself. Women chanted his name and ululated as they stood in
line to vote, while a pro-army song popularized after Mursi's
overthrow blared from cars.
The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies criticized Egyptian
media for "stoking hatred towards the Brotherhood" and contributing
to a climate of intimidation.
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington warned
that international players risked lending legitimacy to a "flawed
and undemocratic progress."
While Western states have criticized the crackdown and called for
inclusive politics, they have put little pressure on Cairo. Egypt,
which controls the Suez Canal, has been a cornerstone of U.S. policy
in the Middle East since the 1970s, when it became the first Arab
state to make peace with Israel.
(Additional reporting by Ali Abdelatti;
editing by Tom Heneghan)