This week's referendum on a new draft constitution marks the first time Egyptians have gone to polls since the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July 2013. It also marks the sixth time Egyptians have gone to polls since they rose up against the autocratic regime of former president Hosni Mubarak on 25 January 2011, and forced him out of office on 11 February 2011.
Egyptian voters will be asked to vote yes or no on a new 247-article constitution. Led by Egypt's former high-profile foreign minister and ex-secretary-general of Arab League, Amr Moussa, the 50-member committee tasked with amending the 2012 constitution finalised a new draft on 1 December 2013. It then passed the charter to Interim President Adly Mansour 3 December.
If approved by a majority, the new constitution, which will replace 2012's 236-article national charter drafted by an Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly, will mark the end of the first stage of the post-30 June political roadmap, to be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections within the next six months.
On 30 June 2013, Egyptians turned out in millions in Cairo and other major cities demanding the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood regime of Mohamed Morsi and appointing chairman of the High Constitutional Court (HCC) Adly Mansour as interim president. The outpouring of dissent, which came after just one year of Morsi in office, was backed by the military and its chief commander and minister of defence, Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.
The 50-member committee, including representatives from almost all sectors of Egyptians society, was formed in September 2013 to amend the 2012 Constitution that was suspended 3 July.
On 14 December 2013, President Mansour issued a decree inviting Egyptians to vote on the newly-drafted constitution on 14 and 15 January 2014.
Basic facts and rules on this week's referendum
The referendum on the constitution is scheduled to be held 14 and 15 January (Tuesday and Wednesday) in 27 Egyptian governorates.
The vote will begin at 9am and end at 9pm, though supervising judges have authority to allow more time if necessary.
Egypt's population: Estimated at 90 million.
Citizens eligible to vote: Approximately 53,423,485, up by 1,504,619 from 2012.
Monitoring the ballot
On 11 September 2013, Interim President Mansour issued decree no. 586/2013, stating that a seven-member Supreme Elections Committee (SEC) be formed to officially take charge of overseeing and monitoring Egypt's referendums and parliamentary polls from beginning to the end.
The SEC is headed by the chairman of Cairo's Appeals Court, Nabil Salib, and includes: Ezzat Abdel-Gawwad and Mohamed Hossam, first and second deputy chairmen of the Court of Cassation (Egypt's highest judicial authority); Essameddin Abdel-Aziz and Gamal Taha, first and second deputy chairmen of the State Council (administrative courts); and Sabri Hamid and Ayman Kamel, the chairmen of Alexandria and Tanta Appeal Courts respectively.
A further six judges act as SEC reserve members. They include: Anwar Mohamed Ammar, a deputy chairman of the Court of Cassation; Ezzat Abdallah Al-Bindari, a deputy chairman of the Court of Cassation; Mohamed Ibrahim Mohamed, a deputy chairman of the State Council and chairman of Cairo's Administrative Court; Yehia Sayed Negm, a deputy chairman of the State Council and chairman of its affiliated judicial inspection department; Mahfouz Saber Abdel-Qader, chairman of Mansoura's Appeals Court; and Magdi Mounir Dimian, chairman of Ismailia's Appeals Court.
SEC's official website: www.elections.eg
Interim President Mansour's decree of 11 September gives the SEC supreme, full and exclusive rights in monitoring all stages of the referendum, ranging from revising voter lists, ensuring security and army forces are adequately available to prevent campaigning on the ballot day, licensing local and foreign monitors and media personnel, to announcing the official results.
The SEC must also make sure that the referendum is entirely supervised and monitored by judges.
On 5 January, the SEC announced in a public statement that the number of judges supervising the referendum on 14 and 15 January was boosted from 14,000 to an estimated 16,000 to ensure full judicial supervision of the vote. This, according to official statements from Cairo's independent Judges' Club, will make sure that the referendum is held under the principle, "A Judge for Every Voting Box."
The SEC said judges will be supported by state employees from the court and prosecution authorities.
They include 352 main polling stations and an estimated 30,000 auxiliary ones. The SEC said each auxiliary polling station will cater to 3,200 voters. A voting centre — usually a school or a sporting club — could accomodate two or three auxiliary polling stations.
No to Muslim Brotherhood judges
The SEC and the independent Judges' Club unanimously agreed that judges affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood must be barred from playing any role in supervising this week's referendum.
Secretary-general of the Judges' Club Abdalah Fathi said judges who were members of the so-called "Judges for the Sake of Egypt" or the "Current of Independent Judiciary" will be excluded from playing a supervisory role on the grounds that they have violated the principle of judicial independence and publicly affiliated themselves to a political faction.
Counting the votes
According to the SEC's statement of 5 January, when polling stations close on the first day of the referendum (Tuesday, 14 January), it will be up to supervising judges to oversee the sealing of ballot boxes with red wax and to ensure they are tightly secured.
At the end of the second day (Wednesday, 15 January), judges in auxiliary polling stations will take charge of the count and send an official statement of the detailed results to the nearest main polling stations. In turn, main polling stations will then send the results from districts to the so-called "Governorate's Main Station" (headed by the chairman of the Appeals Court in respective governorates), which will send the overall official results to the SEC's headquarters in Cairo.
The SEC stated that it alone is mandated to announce the official results of the referendum. "No result of the referendum can be announced ahead of the SEC's official statement on it," the SEC's statement said 5 January.
The SEC also stated that no opinion polls can be conducted on the two days of the vote.
It also explained that judges will take hold of the voting ballots one day ahead of the referendum (on Monday, 13 January) and will ensure that they are safely transported to polling stations. The ballots will be made available for judges at First Instance Courts in each governorate.
Voting violations and penalties
President Mansour amended Article 49 of the 1956 Law on the Exercise of Political Rights law to stiffen penalties on voting offences. Those who try to vote twice, or try to vote though they are stripped of political rights, or use other's name to vote on behalf of him or her, or announce results of the referendum ahead of the SEC's official statement, will face harsh prison sentences.
Offenders against SEC regulations on referendum matters may be subject to prison sentences of up to 10 years. The orders of the SEC, however, are not immune to appeal.
The SEC said citizens must take note of the polling station in which their names are registered (mostly ones as near as possible to their place of residence). Inside the polling station, they will have to give their national identity cards or passports to supervising judges, sign their names, put their thumbs in red ink and then cast their votes in the assigned glass boxes.
Specially designated polling stations
On 6 January, President Mansour amended Article 32 of the 1956 Law on the Exercise of Political Rights, allowing specially designated polling stations to receive votes from citizens not residing at their officially listed addresses.
The number of these specially designated polling stations will range from 65 to 72, 12 of which will be located in Cairo, 10 in Giza, eight in Qalioubiya, five each in the three governorates of Alexandria, South Sinai and the Red Sea, two each in the three governorates of Menoufiya, Sharqiya and Luxor, and one each in the remaining governorates.
Blind and handicapped citizens
The blind and handicapped cannot vote by themselves. They are obliged to be accompanied by others who will vote on their behalf or ask state employees available at polling stations to vote on behalf of them.
Voting of Egyptians working abroad
The SEC is also in charge of regulating the voting of Egyptians working and living abroad. The vote is supervised by diplomatic and consular corps in Egyptian embassies.
The vote began 8 January and lasted until 12 January, three days earlier than the official in-country vote.
It was held in 127 Egyptian embassies and 11 consulates designated as polling stations.
Out of some eight million Egyptians living abroad, only 681,346 registered to vote, of which an estimated 312,000 live in Saudi Arabia, 132,000 in Kuwait, 67,000 in the United Arab Emirates, 42,000 in Qatar and 31,000 in the US. The rest are scattered across the world.
The results will be sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which will forward them to the SEC.
Local and international monitoring
The SEC has indicated that local and international monitors and media are welcome to take part in monitoring Egypt's referendum.
SEC Secretary-General Nasreddin Shiashi said the SEC has licensed 59 local civil society organisations to act in a monitoring capacity.
Shiashi stressed that NGOs designated by the Ministry of Social Solidarity as affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood will be barred from taking part in monitoring the poll.
In total, the SEC has indicated that as many as 6,000 local and foreign monitors will be allowed to monitor the poll. It indicated that 790 foreign monitors affiliated with six high-profile international organisations were licensed to monitor the poll, on top of which the Carter Centre, the Arab League, the European Union (EU), and Transparency International.
The SEC has indicated that all Egyptian press and media organisations that submitted requests to take part in monitoring the referendum were officially permitted to participate in covering it.
It also explained that foreign correspondents endorsed by the State Information Service were also licenced.
Safeguarding the referendum
A statement issued by the Egyptian Armed Forces 10 January said as many as 160,000 army personnel (officers and conscripts) will be mobilised to safeguard polling stations. These forces, the statement said, will use helicopters and paramilitary troops and all other possible means to ensure that citizens vote freely and securely.
The army guards will be joined by around 100,000 Central Security Forces.
The statement said the army and security forces will exercise utmost restraint if violent protests break out, intending to use water cannon and tear gas only to disperse protests.
It also indicated that the forces will offer an ambulance service for voters, monitors and media personnel.
On 11 January, army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi urged Egyptians to turn out in millions on 14 and 15 January to vote on the new constitution, "so as not to embarrass the army."
The cost of the referendum, including the expenses of judicial supervision and deployment of security and army forces, is expected to exceed LE2 billion (around $285 million).
1805-1952: Until the military revolution of 23 July 1952, Egypt had been under the hereditary rule of the family of Mohamed Ali who took power in 1805. King Farouk, the last of the Mohamed Ali dynasty, was ousted from power and Egypt declared a republic on 18 June 1953.
1953-1956: Army General Mohamed Naguib was selected by the military to be the first president of the republic. Naguib, however, was forced to resign in March 1954 by Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the architect of the 1952 military revolution. Nasser was appointed chairman of the Revolution Leadership Council in 1954 for a transitional period of two years.
In September 1956, a new constitution was passed to replace the liberal-oriented 1923 national charter.
1970-2005: Nasser died 28 September 1970 and was replaced by Anwar El-Sadat who introduced a new constitution that was endorsed in a public referendum in September 1971.
On 6 October 1981, Sadat was assassinated during a military parade and was succeeded by his deputy, Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak was elected president of Egypt in a Yes/No referendum, gaining 98 per cent of the vote. Mubarak was subsequently re-elected four times by Yes/No referendums in the first 24 years of his rule.
Under US pressure led by former US President George W Bush in 2005, Mubarak was forced to amend Article 76 of the 1971 Constitution, instituting a system of multi-candidate presidential elections in Egypt for the first time.
In March 2007, 32 amendments of the 1971 Constitution were introduced by Mubarak and endorsed in a public referendum. They imposed a ban on political parties based on religious foundations, eliminated judicial supervision of polls, and granted Mubarak a free hand to refer civilians involved in terrorist acts to military tribunals.
On 11 February 2011, Mubarak was ousted from power after an 18-day uprising led by a new generation of pro-democracy youth. The military took over and put an interim Constitutional Declaration to a public referendum on 19 March 2011. It was approved by 77 per cent of Egyptians in a free and fair ballot.
In 2011 and 2012, Egyptians voted in elections for the People's Assembly (lower house of parliament), Shura Council (upper house), in presidential polls, and on a new constitution.
Also read Ahram Online's in-depth stories on Egypt's 2013 draft constitution:
Inside Egypt's draft constitution: Progress on key freedoms
Inside Egypt's draft constitution: Role of sharia redefined
Inside Egypt's draft constitution: Checks and balances mediate presidential power
Inside Egypt's draft constitution: Questions over social justice
Inside Egypt's draft constitution: Debates over military powers continue
Egypt's constitution 2013 vs. 2012: A comparison