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Egypt’s vote key to general’s future

15 January 2014, 13:13

Cairo - Egyptians resumed voting on Wednesday in a constitutional referendum, with turnout expected to hold the key a likely presidential bid by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after clashes killed nine people the previous day.

In the capital Cairo, early turnout was lacklustre on the second day of the vote, with a trickle of Egyptians heading to polling stations in the morning, an AFP journalist said.

Polling had gone ahead smoothly amid tight security at most stations across Egypt on Tuesday, but sporadic clashes between supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi and their opponents and police left at least nine dead.

The constitution, which replaces the one passed under Morsi, is expected to be approved despite a boycott by his Islamist supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood.

The charter adopted under Morsi was approved with 64 percent of the vote, but just 33 percent of the country's 53 million voters turned out.

Tuesday's violence highlighted the government's precarious grip on the most populous Arab nation, which is still reeling from Morsi's ouster and a crackdown on his supporters.

Around 250 people were also arrested on Tuesday, among them members of the Brotherhood, for disrupting polling in areas.

More than 1 000 people have been killed in clashes since Morsi's ouster, and thousands have been arrested, including the top leadership of the Brotherhood.

Morsi's Brotherhood was designated a terrorist group by the military-installed authorities as part of their crackdown on the movement that dominated all polls since the ouster of long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak in early 2011.

US State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf, meanwhile, said Washington was concerned by reports of violence during the vote but added it was awaiting reports from "independent observers on the technical merits of the ongoing referendum".

She also said a clause in a Congress bill expected to pass on Friday allows the White House to unfreeze $1.5 billion (1.1 billion euros) in aid to Cairo if it can certify that Egypt "has held a constitutional referendum, and is taking steps to support a democratic transition".

In October, Washington suspended the annual aid following a deadly crackdown by the Egyptian government on Morsi's supporters.

Sisi watching voter turnout

Egyptian media came out in praise of Tuesday's first day of polling.

"Yes, even if criminals hate it," said a front page headline in Al-Wafd, a private daily, referring to supporters of Morsi. "Egyptians choose their future as millions write history," said state-owned daily Al-Gomhuria.

The Egyptian government hopes a large turnout in favour of the new constitution will bolster its disputed authority, while army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will monitor it for an "indicator" of his popularity, an official close to the general said.

Interim president Adly Mansour's government has pledged the referendum will be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections.

It is unclear how many Egyptians will have voted by the end of Wednesday, but the constitution appears certain to pass.

Backers of the charter are hoping it will receive the support of at least 70% of votes cast.

Authorities worry a low turnout would empower their Islamist opponents and cast further doubts on their legitimacy, analysts say. State media gave no indication of what voter turnout had been on the first day of the polls.

Security forces had deployed across the country amid fears recent attacks by militants would deter voters.

Many Islamists revile Sisi as the man who overthrew the country's first freely elected and civilian president, but the general is adored by millions who took to the streets to demand Morsi's resignation.

He is widely expected to run for president, and has said he would stand if there was "popular demand", state media reported this week.

The new charter has done away with much of the Islamist-inspired wording of Morsi's constitution, suspended on his overthrow, and its supporters say it expands women's rights and freedom of speech.

But it has bolstered the military's powers, granting the army the right to appoint the defence minister for the next eight years and to try civilians for attacks on the armed forces.



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