CAIRO – An overwhelming majority of Egyptians who voted on the country’s new constitution have backed the draft charter, a senior Egyptian official said Thursday.
The official told The Associated Press that unofficial results, after most of ballots have been counted, indicate that more than 90 percent of the voters had said “yes” to the constitution. He declined to give an estimate on the final turnout and spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
The vote held Tuesday and Wednesday is a milestone for Egypt’s interim government, installed by the military after the ouster last July of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
The draft is also a key piece of a political road map toward new elections for a president and a test of public opinion about the coup that removed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. It is a heavily amended version of a constitution drafted by Morsi’s Islamist allies and ratified in December 2012 with some 64 percent of the vote, but with a nationwide turnout of just over 30 percent.
Morsi’s Brotherhood boycotted this week’s referendum while the country’s second-largest Islamist group, the ultraconservative Salafis, also stayed away from the polls in response to a crackdown against Islamists that included confiscation of their assets, shutdown of their TV networks and the banning of their top clerics from preaching in mosques.
This left traditional Islamist strongholds across Egypt seeing only a trickle of voters during the two-day balloting.
By contrast, and raising the prospects of a continued polarization among Egyptians, long lines formed outside polling stations in major urban areas and big cities, with crowds brandishing posters of the country’s military chief, chanting in support of the army and women ululating.
Such patriotic outbursts followed an intense campaign by the government and the overwhelmingly pro-military media, which portrayed the balloting as key to the nation’s security and stability. In the weeks before the vote, hundreds of thousands of fliers, posters, banners and billboards urged Egyptians to vote “yes” in the referendum and people were arrested for posters and campaigns calling for a “no” vote.
The current interim government is looking for a big “yes” majority and large turnout to win undisputed legitimacy and perhaps a popular mandate for the military chief and defense minister, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, to run for president later this year. But silencing dissent has raised questions about the legitimacy of the process.
El-Sissi has yet to say outright whether he plans to seek the nation’s highest office, but his candidacy appears increasingly likely every day.
Following the referendum, Interim President Adly Mansour is expected to also announce changes in the road map, scheduling presidential elections before the vote for the next parliament, a switch from the initial plan. This could give Egypt a new president before the summer.
Many Egyptians saw the vote as a deadly blow to the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam, whose parties have dominated the past five polls since the 2011 ouster of longtime authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak. In the past three years, the Islamists swept the vote in parliamentary and presidential elections, and seemed to have positioned themselves as the country’s rulers for decades.
The privately-owned The Seventh Day daily ran a mock front-page death certificate for the Brotherhood, listing cause of death as “political stupidity and betrayal.” The text also gave the location for the burial — “ballot boxes.”