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Africa

Polls close in referendum on Egyptian constitution

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-01-15

Polls closed in Egypt on Wednesday evening, state media reported, after a second and final day of voting in a referendum on a new constitution.

The referendum has been widely viewed as a test for the country’s powerful army chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, as he prepares a potential run for the presidency.

Although voting went more smoothly than it did on the first day of the referendum – at least nine people were killed on Tuesday – police said that 79 people had been arrested on Wednesday in protests by supporters of the country’s former president, Mohammed Morsi.The Interior Ministry said that a total of 444 people had been arrested over the two-day vote for "obstructing the referendum process".

Morsi, from the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement, served as Egypt’s first freely elected leader until he was deposed by the military in July. He has been detained in an undisclosed location ever since.

Vote-counting began shortly after polling stations closed. It is widely expected that the proposed constitution will be accepted.

The military-backed authorities said turnout was strong, but Brotherhood supporters said that their calls for a boycott of the referendum had been observed.

At many polling stations across the Arab world’s most populous country, the referendum could have been mistaken for a vote on Sisi himself.

Women chanted his name and ululated as they stood in line to vote, while a pro-military song popularised after Morsi’s overthrow blared from cars.

The referendum is crucial to the interim government’s plans for a political transition towards democracy, despite continued efforts to stifle the Muslim Brotherhood. Just last month, authorities declared the movement a “terrorist organisation”.

A presidential election could be held as early as April.

‘Narrowed political space’

High turnout would be viewed as a strong stamp of approval for the new political order, which could see the military’s return to a position of power. The military had ruled for six decades before the 2011 uprising against president Hosni Mubarak.

“God willing, a large percentage of the public will vote ‘yes’, and for one main reason - we have been through great hardship and been worn out,” said Hisham Mohamed Moussa, waiting to vote in Cairo.

While Western states have criticised the crackdown and called for inclusive politics, they have put little pressure on Cairo. Egypt, which controls the Suez Canal, has been a cornerstone of US policy in the Middle East since the 1970s, when it became the first Arab state to make peace with Israel.

The US-based Carter Centre, which has monitored most of the votes held over the past three years of political upheaval, sent only a small observation mission after voicing concern at “narrowed political space” around the vote.

Another US-funded group, Democracy International, had 83 observers deployed across the country. DI Programme Manager Dan Murphy told the Reuters news agency observers were reporting that “from a technical standpoint the process is proceeding normally”.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC, however, warned that international players risked lending legitimacy to a “flawed and undemocratic progress”.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-01-15

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