Egyptians embrace new constitution

An Egyptian man holding a button with a photo of Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi waits for his turn to vote. (PHOTO: Associated Press - Khalil Hamra).
An Egyptian man holding a button with a photo of Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi waits for his turn to vote. (PHOTO: Associated Press – Khalil Hamra).

Originally published in World Mag

Early results indicate Egyptian voters have overwhelmingly passed a constitutional referendum that paves the way for presidential elections in a country that has ousted two presidents in less than two years.

Initial reports show that more than 90 percent of Egyptians approved the new constitution in voting across the country on Wednesday and Thursday.

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The constitutional vote came six months after Egyptians demonstrators flooded Tahrir Square and demanded the removal of President Mohamed Morsi. The Islamist leader’s unpopularity had swelled after he led efforts to rush a controversial constitution through Parliament in December 2012, while declaring sweeping presidential powers.

Most observers predicted Egyptian voters would pass the new draft constitution by a wide margin, but attention quickly turned to how many Egyptians turned out to vote. If voter turnout in this week’s referendum exceeds the turnout for the previous constitutional vote in December 2012, analysts expect Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi to run for the presidency.

Sisi—the country’s top military leader and defense minister—removed Morsi from office after widespread demonstrations in 2013. The general’s popularity has grown with Egyptian voters craving stability in a country that has roiled since demonstrators ousted former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Sisi has also drawn fierce opposition from Islamists who opposed Morsi’s ouster last year. The interim leadership has led a widespread crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters, and Morsi remains in prison.

Muslim Brotherhood supporters boycotted this week’s referendum, but voting proceeded peacefully in most regions of the country. The mood at many polling stations was festive, as speakers blared nationalist songs, vendors sold Egyptian flags, and voters posed for pictures with soldiers patrolling outside stations.

Iman Mahmoud, a voter in a city 110 miles north of Cairo, told The New York Times she hoped the vote would dispel criticism that the military had taken over the country: “We’re here so the world will know that this is the people’s will, not a military coup.”

Early results indicated voter turnout did exceed the constitutional referendum in 2012, perhaps paving the way for a Sisi presidency. If the general does run, he’ll likely wield substantial power, since the interim government has indicated it would hold presidential elections before parliamentary elections.

“Invariably, that is likely to mean a Sisi presidency before Parliament sits,” Brookings Institute analyst H.A. Hellyer told The Wall Street Journal. “In the absence of a Parliament, legislative power would sit with the presidency entirely.”

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