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Egypt Islamists say charter passed in referendum

Muslim Brotherhood claim victory but opponents allege fraud

Image Credit: REUTERS
Officials count ballots after polls closed in Bani Sweif, about 115 km (71 miles) south of Cairo December 22, 2012. 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.
Gulf News

Cairo: A majority of Egyptians have backed a controversial charter in a two-round referendum, ruling Islamists and official media said on Sunday, as the secular-leaning opposition alleged fraud and considered its next move.

The Muslim Brotherhood, from which President Mohammad Mursi hails, and the official Al Ahram newspaper reported that about 64 per cent of voters supported the constitution, after preliminary results were tallied from the second round on Saturday.

Turnout over both rounds was around 32 per cent, according to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The early results are based on reports from returning officials from the vast majority of stations over the two rounds, which were held a week apart. The election committee will announce the final results within two days.

“The Egyptian people continue their march towards finalising the construction of a democratic modern state, after turning the page on oppression,” the Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, said in a statement.

The main opposition group, the National Salvation Front, said on Saturday that it observed fraud over the two rounds of voting and are have scheduled a press conference forb Sunday at around 1100 GMT (3pm UAE).

The Front had tried to scupper the poll with mass rallies before a last-minute campaign to vote down the charter in the referendum, which will be followed by elections for a new parliament in two months.

In Washington, Republican representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the vote “a defeat for the Egyptian people”.

“We cannot celebrate the trade of an authoritative regime for an Islamic dictatorship,” she said in a statement issued ahead of the announcement of any results.

On the eve of Saturday’s polling, clashes in Egypt’s second city Alexandria injured 62 people as stone-throwing mobs torched vehicles, underlining the deepening fractures in the Arab world’s most populous nation.

Eight people were killed and hundreds more injured in clashes between rival demonstrators on December 5 outside Mursi’s presidential palace in Cairo, in scenes not witnessed since the uprising that overthrew president Husni Mubarak in early 2011.

Some 250,000 police and soldiers were deployed to provide security during the referendum. The army has also positioned tanks around the presidential palace since early this month.

Meanwhile, Mursi’s vice president, Mahmoud Makki, whose post is not mentioned in the new charter, announced on Saturday that he was resigning.

“Political work does not suit my professional character,” he said in a statement, referring to his past as a respected judge.

State television reported that Central Bank chief Farouq Al Okda had also resigned, but later cited a cabinet source as denying this had happened.

A modest margin and a low turnout in the referendum is expected to embolden the opposition, which looks likely to continue its campaign against Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Once the constitution is ratified, the Islamist-dominated senate will assume full legislative powers until a new parliament is elected in two months to replace the Islamist-dominated assembly a court annulled before Mursi’s election in June.

On Saturday, Morsi appointed 90 additional senators, including eight women and 12 Christians, to further “national dialogue”, his spokesman said in a statement.

At one polling station in Giza, southwest Cairo, 50-year-old housewife Zarifa Abdul Aziz said: “I will vote ‘no’ a thousand times... I am not comfortable with the Brotherhood and all that it is doing.”

However, 19-year-old law student Ahmad Mohammad said he voted ‘yes’ because “Egypt needs a constitution to be stable.”

Rights groups say the charter limits the freedoms of religious minorities and women, while allowing the military, which retains considerable influence over politics, to try civilians it believes ‘harm’ the army.

Mursi had to split the voting over two successive Saturdays after more than half of Egypt’s judges said they would not provide the statutory supervision of polling stations.