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Vote validates Egypt's takeover

by DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK New York Times News Service on January 19, 2014 1:00 AM

CAIRO — Egypt’s Supreme Electoral Committee said Saturday that 98.1 percent of the voters had approved a revised constitution validating last summer’s military takeover and paving the way for Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the country’s top military leader, to seek the presidency.

The committee said 38.6 percent of the electorate had cast ballots in the two-day referendum Tuesday and Wednesday, exceeding the roughly one-third that voted in a referendum on the previous constitution in December 2012 under President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. The revised charter had been universally expected to pass; the level of turnout was the only open question.

The near unanimity of the vote was plausible because of the government’s vigorous suppression of any opposition to the new charter. A campaign of arrests and mass shootings has crippled the Brotherhood, the main opposition group, which was formally outlawed three weeks ago. It had called for a boycott of the plebiscite. Almost no critics of the charter were able to express their views in the news media or the streets. And several activists were arrested just for hanging signs urging a no vote.

In statement Saturday night, Ehab Badawy, a spokesman for the office of the interim president, described the vote as a triumph over the protests and anti-government violence that have persisted since Morsi was deposed in July.

“Despite a milieu of intense social upheaval and acts of terrorism and sabotage that sought to derail the process, Egyptians have now marked yet another defining moment in our road map to democracy,” Badawy said.

The new constitution takes effect immediately.

A last-minute revision left the next steps up to the interim president, Adly Mansour, a senior judge who was named by el-Sissi. He is widely expected to call for presidential elections before parliamentary elections, reversing the order of the transition plan el-Sissi had initially laid out when he removed Morsi from office.

With el-Sissi now widely expected to run for president, holding the presidential election first would allow him to consolidate his power over the political system before parliamentary elections that might bring out divisions among his supporters or allow opponents to win seats.

The new charter is not radically different from its predecessor. Legal experts said it does little to expand protections for fundamental rights or freedoms. Its most notable liberalizations are clauses mandating that the government spend a certain percentage of its budget on health care and education.

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