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Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Egyptians vote on constitutional referendum despite sporadic clashes

Voter turnout lower, and clashes less, as Egypt anticipates an overwhelming vote in favour of its newly-amended constitution, an endorsement that many view as an endorsement of General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi's presidential hopes

Ahram Online, Wednesday 15 Jan 2014
constitutional referendum
Egyptians line up to vote in the country's constitutional referendum in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014. (Photo: AP)
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The second and last day of Egypt's constitutional referendum ended on a much calmer and quieter note, with lower voter turnout and only minor clashes in which no deaths were reported.

The newly-amended constitution, widely expected to pass the referendum, improves upon the one drafted in 2012 under an Islamist government headed by then-president Mohamed Morsi. That charter was suspended after his 3 July ouster.

The 2014 constitution has been hailed for increasing the rights of several previously-marginalized factions of society, notably women, and ensuring greater access to social justice, but the document has been criticized for granting the military more rights, namely allowing its top brass to serve for eight years, as well as stipulating that civilians can still face military trials.

The Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, announced a boycott of the referendum and held protests during the voting to denounce a political process they said was illegitimate. Morsi supporters marched sporadically throughout the country in numbers that did not exceed several hundred, sparking clashes in many locations that left 10 people dead over the two-day referendum.

Despite the threat of violence, however, many voters maintained a celebratory and cheerful mood, with national media largely depicting the referendum as a "democratic wedding" and the best path to future stability and development.

The two days saw a high turnout of women and the elderly, with a notable absence of young voters.

Many people consider a "yes" vote for the constitution as another mandate for army chief Abdel Fattah El-Sissi to run in upcoming presidential elections, expected to be held this summer.

Most voters interviewed by Ahram Online said they voted "yes." Among the lines in Cairo’s affluent Zamalek district, Mona Yehia, a woman in her 60s, said she voted "yes" with confidence that many Egyptians will also do the same.

"I am sure that the turnout will pass 97 percent, like the statistics that showed 97 percent of Egyptians abroad voted 'yes'," she said.

Voter, Samir Khalifa, 38, who works in the oil sector, described the constitution as “a work in progress."

"The constitution is not perfect," said Khalifa, "but it's enough for now to keep the country moving forward."

Security was heavy at polling stations, with tens of thousands from the police and army deployed across the country, amid fears of renewed violence after Tuesday's clashes. 

The government was very clear in its warnings to those who might try to derail the referendum.

At the close of Tuesday's voting, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim told private satellite TV channel Al-Hayat that "anyone who contemplates meddling with the referendum ballot boxes once they are closed [for the night] will be shot with live ammunition."

The interior ministry issued a statement on its official Facebook account stating that 249 were arrested nationwide on Tuesday.

Despite the heavy security presence, clashes continued for the second day of voting, sparked by assumed pro-Morsi protesters chanting against the referendum and the military. The protesters formed human chains in cities to disrupt traffic and blocked the underground metro in Cairo by marching along the track of the main line in two stations in the southern suburb of Helwan.

In the northeastern district of Heliopolis, near the airport and the presidential palace and not far from the site of a former pro-Brotherhood protest camp that was violently dispersed last August, Morsi supporters torched a traffic booth in Roxy Square, a busy intersection. Around 500 of the demonstrators brought traffic to a standstill and burnt banners endorsing a "yes" vote to the constitution, before being quickly dispersed by police.

In another incident, gunmen stormed a polling station in the Giza district of Ossim, temporarily suspending voting as fighting flared between the pro-Brotherhood protesters and security forces, Al-Ahram's Arabic news website reported.

In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, police dispersed pro-Morsi protesters as they clashed with opponents and torched a police car, according to Al-Ahram's Arabic news website. Three people were arrested, reported the Alexandria investigation bureau chief.

Those campaigning for a "no" vote have been scarce in the days leading up to the referendum. The Strong Egypt Party, founded by former Brotherhood member and prominent Islamist Mohamed Abul-Fotouh, initially campaigned for a "no" vote, but then switched to an outright boycott after some of its members were arrested for passing out fliers against the constitution.

In the northern Sharqiya governorate, over a dozen polling administrators were expelled from their stations after being caught directing people to vote "no," the city's governor said.

The constitution has enjoyed wide support from most of political parties, including the ultraconservative Salafist Nour Party. The Nour Party, along with a former Brotherhood member, were the only two Islamist representatives on the panel tasked with amending the the constitution.

In a change of stance since Morsi's ouster, the Nour Party has supported almost all decisions taken by the interim authorities and has voiced its support for the proposed political roadmap. Salafist Call spokesperson Yasser El-Borhami said Tuesday that the Muslim Brotherhood should "change their minds" and that leaders should "avoid further losses in popularity."

A random sample of voting from the referendum indicated that almost 28 percent cast their votes on the first day, Minister of State for Administrative Development Hany Mahmoud told private satellite TV channel CBC Extra on Wednesday.

More than 52 million Egyptians are eligible to vote. A new measure allowed those living away from their place of registration, such as those working in tourism in coastal cities, to cast their ballots through special committees housed within nearby polling stations. These special committees have increased in number to 19 nationwide, officials said.

Vote counting should start right after the polls close on Wednesday night, with the final results and exact turnout figures expected to be released in the early hours of Thursday.


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