Egyptian constitution approved, preliminary results show

Video: Egypt's Islamist-backed constitution received a "yes" majority in a final round of voting on Saturday for a referendum that saw a low voter turnout, but the deep divisions it has opened up threaten to fuel continued turmoil.

CAIRO — Egyptians have approved a new constitution that will deepen the influence of Islamic law in their country and seems likely to exacerbate divisions after a month-long political crisis.

Preliminary results Sunday from a two-day national referendum showed that the charter has passed. President Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood party and state media said that 64 percent of voters said yes to the Islamist-backed constitution, though the results are not expected to be officially announced until Monday.

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Many of the charter’s supporters said they hoped that the approval of the new code of law would bring stability to Egypt’s streets after weeks of political crisis and nearly two years of uncertainty since the fall of Hosni Mubarak. But the constitution is unlikely to result in newfound unity.

Opposition leaders Sunday condemned the preliminary results of the vote, saying that the constitution — proposed hastily by an Islamist-dominated assembly — was illegitimate and that the referendum was marred by fraud.

Opposition groups will continue their protests against Morsi’s government and pursue “all political means” in order to “bring down the constitution,” Amr Hamzawy, a leader of the opposition National Salvation Front, said at a midday news conference in Cairo.

The recent conflict, which devolved over four weeks into sporadically violent street battles, pits Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood backers against a broad coalition of liberals, leftists and Christians over the balance of power and the charter that will define how the new Egypt is governed.

The Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist supporters said Sunday that the vote had proceeded fairly and reflected the democratic will of the people.

The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the ultra-con­servative Salafist Nour party issued statements Sunday calling for reconciliation between national political organizations.

“We hope that the constitution’s approval serves as a historic opportunity to reunite national forces, on a basis of mutual respect and honest dialogue, for the purpose of the nation’s stability and to continue to build its constitutional institutions, so together we can accomplish the goals of the glorious January 25 revolution and build a promising future together,” the Freedom and Justice statement read.

With the constitution in place, Egypt’s authorities are required to hold elections for a new lower house of parliament within 60 days. Until then, the upper house of parliament — another body dominated by Islamists and packed with 90 new Morsi appointees during Saturday’s voting — will assume legislative authority.

This outcome doesn’t sit well with Morsi’s vast but disparate opposition. And even as many activists vowed Sunday not to recognize the new constitution, the typically disorganized alliance appeared divided over how it should have behaved during the vote — for instance, whether a boycott would have been more strategic — and what to do next.

The last parliamentary election, held late last year and early this year, delivered sweeping victories to the Islamists, led by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Analysts and many liberal politicians said later that the poorly organized liberal and secular opposition had been no match for the Muslim Brotherhood, Mubarak’s most formidable opposition, with its history of grass-roots organization.

Leftist leader and former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi said Sunday that the opposition had not reached a decision on whether it would participate in the upcoming parliamentary vote. But he vowed that if it did participate, the opposition would be united.

“We are ready to undergo all democratic battles,” Sabahi said at the news conference, alongside Hamzawy and other opposition leaders.

But the deep fissures of anger and bitterness cut by Egypt’s constitutional crisis are likely to carry into the months ahead. Some supporters of the charter lashed out angrily at the opposition during the final phase of voting Saturday, accusing the largely liberal and urban opposition of harboring “special interests” and being out of touch with Egypt’s post-revolution society.

“They’re not going to accept it. They will go to the streets and say that the referendum was rigged and it was full of flaws because they do not understand democracy,” said Umm Osama, a mathematics teacher whose face was covered in the black veil of ultra-conservative Islam, showing nothing but her eyes.

“People need to understand that democracy is with the ballot box,” she said after casting her yes vote in the poor, industrial district of Shubra al-Kheima north of Cairo.

Sharaf al-Hourani contributed to this report.

 
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