Egyptians expected to vote in new constitution

The result of the constitutional referendum that took place this week in Egypt is not in any doubt: the Egyptians are expected to approve of the constitution by a large majority.

All eyes, however, are on the turnout, levels of violence and the next step of army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, widely expected to run for president later this year.

The two-day referendum on Tuesday and Wednesday was the second time in the past two years that Egyptians were asked to vote on a new constitution. The last one was drawn up under the auspices of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Now with the Brotherhood outlawed and the elected president Mohammed Morsi in prison, awaiting trial on conspiracy charges, a new constitution, prepared this time by the temporary, military-backed government, is about to be approved.

The new constitution effectively neutralises the power of the Brotherhood and other Islamist parties by forbidding the formation of political parties on religious lines. It also perpetuates the military’s power by allowing the army to appoint the defence minister for the next eight years.

The Brotherhood and other opposition organisations are boycotting the vote, in protest over the brutal suppression which has seen over 1,000 demonstrators killed in the past few months. The referendum is all but ensured an overwhelming majority.

The military’s main concern is that the turnout for the referendum will be seen to have been high. During previous president Hosni Mubarak’s era, relatively few Egyptians bothered to vote, since most felt the outcome would make no difference any. Unofficial sources have said that the turnout was over 50 per cent, but official figures are expected only next week.

At least nine protesters were killed across Egypt during the referendum but the authorities are trying to create a semblance of order so that Gen al-Sisi can claim to be the man who restored calm to Egypt.

Last updated: 5:45pm, January 16 2014