BEIRUT

Middle East

Egyptians back new constitution in referendum

An Egyptian election worker shows his colleagues an invalid ballot while counting ballots at the end of the second round of a referendum on a disputed constitution drafted by Islamist supporters of president Mohammed Morsi at a polling station in Giza, Egypt, Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

CAIRO: Egypt’s opposition said Sunday it will appeal a referendum seen as voting in a new constitution backed by ruling Islamists, and vowed to keep up a struggle that has spawned weeks of protests and instability.

Polling “fraud and violations” skewed the results of the two-stage referendum, the final leg of which was held Saturday, the National Salvation Front charged.

“We are asking the [electoral] commission to investigate the irregularities before announcing official results,” a Front member, Amr Hamzawy, 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 call for a transparent investigation into the results. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said: “The new constitution can only meet with acceptance if the process of its adoption is beyond reproach.” But 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.”

Egyptian state media and President Mohammad Mursi’s supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood said the constitution was passed with the support of nearly two-thirds of voters, based on unofficial tallies.

A member of the national electoral commission, Mohammad al-Tanobly, told AFP that “no official date has been fixed” for the publication of the final referendum results. The state news agency MENA had reported they would be released Monday.

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 Friday, the day before the final round of voting. The army has deployed troops to reinforce police since Dec. 5 clashes outside the presidential palace in Cairo killed eight people and injured more than 600 others.

Mursi and Islamists backing the charter say it is necessary to restore stability after the early 2011 revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

But the opposition sees the new constitution as a wedge to usher in creeping Islamic law through a weakening of human rights, particularly women’s rights, and undermine the independence of the judiciary.

It accuses Mursi of steamrolling through the referendum without consensus on the charter, and argues that a low voter turnout of around 32 percent undermined the plebiscite’s legitimacy.

Approval of the constitution would trigger parliamentary elections in two months’ time to replace an Islamist-dominated assembly that was dissolved by Egypt’s constitutional court before Mursi’s election in June.

Mursi’s vice president, Mahmoud Mekki, whose post is not mentioned in the new charter, announced Saturday that he was resigning. He said he had wanted to resign in November but stayed on to help manage the political crisis.

State television reported that central bank Governor Faruq al-Okda had also resigned, but later cited a Cabinet source as denying it.

The governor turned up at a meeting of the government’s economic team Sunday in an apparent attempt to quell nervousness over the state of the economy.

The government stressed the urgency of stability.

“The financial and economic situations are dire,” government spokesman Alaa al-Hadidi said, according to comments published by the state news agency MENA. With the referendum behind, Hadidi said economic policies must be at the center of attention, adding that the government will work to improve the investment environment to attract foreign investors.

In the meantime, all legislative business is being handled by the senate, also under the sway of Islamists.

In a gesture to “national dialogue,” Mursi Saturday appointed 90 additional senators, including eight women and 12 Christians.

The U.S. government, which sees Egypt as a pillar of its Middle East policy and provides Cairo with $1.3 billion annually in military aid, has deliberately avoided public comment on the crisis.

But the Republican chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, called the vote “a defeat for the Egyptian people” at the hands of “an Islamic dictatorship.”

She said: “We must use our aid as leverage to promote democratic reforms, support freedom of religion, and enshrine the protection of minority communities.”

A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Iran, whose diplomatic ties with Cairo were cut three decades ago, said the new constitution would advance the goals of all Egyptians.

 

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