On Saturday, Egypt’s disputed constitution has received a “yes” majority of more than 70 percent in the second and final round of voting on the referendum, according to preliminary results released early Sunday by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The results, posted on the Brotherhood’s website, show that 71.4 percent of those who voted resoundingly approved the constitution that is predicated on a strict interpretation of Islamic law. The announcement was made after 95.5 percent of the ballots were counted. Amid rancorous demonstrations and controversy swirling around the new constitution, there was a low voter turnout as only eight million of the 25 million eligible to vote cast their ballots, making that 30 percent of the voter base.
The referendum on the Islamist-backed charter was held over two days, on December 15 and 22. In the first round, about 56 percent said “yes” to the charter. The turnout then was about 32 percent.
The Muslim Brotherhood, from which Islamist President Mohammed Morsi hails, has accurately predicted election results in the past by tallying results provided by its representatives at polling centers. Official results would not be announced for several days. When they are, Morsi is expected to call for the election of parliament’s lawmaking lower chamber no more than two months later.
The low turnout in both rounds is likely to feed a perception of illegitimacy for the constitution, which Islamists say will lay the foundation for a democratic state and the protection of human rights. The opposition charges that it places restrictions on liberties and gives clerics a say over legislation. The referendum on the constitution has opened divisions in Egypt that are not likely to disappear any time in the near future. Hurriedly adopted by Morsi’s Islamist allies, the charter has left Egypt divided into two camps: The president, his Brotherhood and ultraconservative Islamists known as Salafis in one, and liberals, moderate Muslims and Christians in the other.
The two sides brought hundreds of thousands of supporters to the streets over the past month in rival rallies. Clashes between the two sides left at least 10 people dead and hundreds wounded.
The Brotherhood and its party, as well as members of the opposition, had representatives monitoring polling stations and the vote count across the country. Egypt’s opposition alleged there were massive polling violations after Islamists backing Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi claimed victory in the first round of a referendum on a new charter. Thousands of women complained they were not allowed to vote because they were not veiled, and Christian women also said they were turned away. “We can tell from the results so far that it will be a ‘yes’ vote,” an official from the National Salvation Front told Reuters. “The Islamists are ruling the country, running the vote and influencing the people, so what else could we expect.”
Opposition activists have contended that the document fails to protect human rights and freedoms that were the core values they fought for in the January 25 Revolution that toppled the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak. The new Constitution, they said, does not protect the rights of women, nor does it ensure the rights of Coptic Christians, who comprise some 10 percent of Egypt’s population.
Former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik said that early claims that the referendum on the draft constitution passed are “false, full of deceit and must be nullified,” and told the al-Watan news site, that “confirming the outcomes will perpetuate the instability in Egypt.” On Sunday, Egypt’s opposition said it will appeal the results of the referendum, and vowed to keep up a struggle that has spawned weeks of protests and instability.
“We are asking the electoral commission to investigate the irregularities before announcing official results,” a Front member, Amr Hamzawy, was quoted as having told a Cairo news conference. “The referendum is not the end of the road. It is only one battle,” said another member, Abdel Ghaffar Shokr, reading from a Front statement. “We will continue the fight for the Egyptian people.”
Germany immediately backed the opposition’s call for a transparent investigation into the results, reported AFP. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said, “The new constitution can only meet with acceptance if the process of its adoption is beyond reproach.” Westerwelle said it was “not the power of the street but rather the spirit of compromise and tolerance that should determine the way forward for Egypt.”
Meanwhile, on Sunday, Iran welcomed the approval of Egypt’s new constitution in the referendum. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast congratulated the Egyptian people and said that Tehran sees this as “a decisive step towards democracy” in the country.
As Egyptians voted in Saturday’s referendum, the country’s Vice President Mahmud Mekki announced his resignation. Mekki said he was stepping down because “political work does not suit my professional character as a judge.”
Opposition to the charter has fueled demonstrations for the past month, some of them violent, such as clashes that wounded 62 people in Egypt’s second city of Alexandria on Friday, the day before the final round of voting. Late Sunday, unidentified people threw stones at the head of the judges’ club, Ahmed Zind, after a meeting in which he denounced an “attack on the judicial process” by “a party that thinks of itself as king of Egypt,” a judicial source said. This was seen as a reference to the Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails.
The army has deployed troops to reinforce police since December 5 clashes outside the presidential palace in Cairo killed eight people and injured more than 600 others. Morsi and Islamists backing the charter say it is necessary to restore stability after the early 2011 revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.