Skip to main content

Egypt votes on new constitution, tests legitimacy of military-backed government

By Ian Lee and Jethro Mullen, CNN
updated 3:59 PM EST, Wed January 15, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Polls close after two days of voting on a draft constitution
  • Security forces arrest 125 people on second day of vote, first day marred by violence
  • The draft constitution would put more power in the hands of the military
  • Hundreds have died amid political turmoil in Egypt over the past three years

Cairo (CNN) -- The legitimacy of Egypt's military-backed government is being put to the test as the country voted on a new constitution after years of political turmoil and deadly violence.

The result of the referendum won't be announced for another few days. But there's little doubt it will be approved by a landslide, since opposition has largely been silenced through intimidation and arrests.

After two days of voting, polls closed at 9 p.m. (2 p.m. ET) Wednesday, state TV reported, showing images of clear plastic bins being sealed with zip-ties.

The question is whether the voter turnout will be high enough to bolster the government that took power after the military ousted former Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsy from the presidency last year.

Egyptians head to polls for key vote
Arrests ahead of Egypt vote
Egypt votes on new constitution

A strong participation would translate into support for Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the military chief behind the coup and interim government.

If the draft constitution is passed, elections are expected to follow. Some predict el-Sisi will run for president.

Observers are watching to see if participation is above 33%. That's the percentage of voters who turned out for the former Islamist-backed constitution.

Military rule popular with Egyptians, study finds

Violence on Day 1

Egyptian security forces arrested 125 people on the second day of voting, the official news agency MENA reported. They were arrested for rioting and trying to obstruct the electoral process, MENA said.

The first day of polling was already marred by outbreaks of unrest. The Ministry of Health said nine people died Tuesday in violence related to the referendum.

Clashes were reported in several provinces. At least four were killed in Sohag and one in Beni Seouif in clashes between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and security.

Violations reported by rights groups monitoring the vote ranged between campaigning for "yes" votes inside or near polling stations and preventing Christian voters from reaching polling stations in parts of Upper Egypt, which has a history of sectarian strife and is known for the strong presence of Islamist groups.

Tuesday's deaths were the latest twist in three years of political upheaval marked by two presidential departures and hundreds of deaths.

Deep political divide

The referendum is the first national vote since the ouster of the democratically elected President Mohamed Morsy. The proposed text would change the constitution to ban religious parties and give more power to the military.

A deep political divide is evident between supporters of the interim military government and defenders of Morsy.

Plenty of people voting at polling stations Tuesday expressed support for el-Sisi and the draft constitution.

"Egyptians' vote today shows that they are completely against the former regime and they welcome the road map," said Riham Emam.

But others say that voices of dissent have been muzzled.

"The scary part is that opposition is no longer tolerated, even for political parties," said Khaled Dawoud, a spokesman for the liberal Constitution Party.

Authorities have cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood since Morsy's ouster, rounding up the movements leaders and making membership illegal.

Opinion: Is Egypt back where it was in 2011?

Constitutional changes

Egyptians voted on the last constitution in December 2012, while Morsy was still in power. But that constitution was suspended after the military deposed him in July.

The latest proposal differs from the last constitution in several ways.

Some say the draft constitution would mean improved human rights and freedom of expression. The new version explicitly states that women are equal to men and allows them to hold official and judicial posts, Al-Ahram said.

The new articles would also give parliament the right to impeach the President in the event of a breach of the provisions of the constitution, Al-Ahram said. Other new articles would criminalize torture, discrimination and arbitrary forced displacement.

Critics say the latest draft would give too much power to the military without any civilian oversight. For example, the draft gives tremendous leeway to the army to try civilians in military courts -- something many Egyptians have opposed for years.

Morsy's opponents said he was a tyrant trying to impose conservative values, but Morsy's supporters say that the military has now returned to the authoritarian practices of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak, who was deposed in a popular uprising in 2011.

Hundreds died in clashes between Egyptian security forces and Morsy supporters in the weeks that followed his ouster.

Morsy has been in detention since July and faces charges of inciting the murders of at least three protesters outside the presidential palace in 2012. The protests were over the constitution that Morsy shepherded into effect.

Ian Lee reported from Cairo, and Jethro Mullen wrote from Hong Kong. Reza Sayah, Tom Watkins, Saad Abedine, Salma Abdelaziz, Holly Yan, Sarah Sirgany, Richard Allen Greene, Laura Smith-Spark and Marie-Louise Gumuchian contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Egypt
Visit CNN Arabic for full election news and updates in Arabic.
updated 12:50 PM EDT, Mon May 26, 2014
CNN's Reza Sayah explains Egypt's presidential election.
updated 12:55 PM EDT, Mon May 26, 2014
Minute changes by Egypt's next leader may not be sufficient to bring genuine stability, writes H.A. Hellyer.
updated 11:59 PM EDT, Thu May 22, 2014
Supporters of Egyptian leftist presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi (portrait) attend a campaign meeting in Cairo.
Both presidential candidates have made lofty promises. But has either offered specifics on how the economy?
updated 4:06 AM EDT, Sun June 8, 2014
CNN's Reza Sayah profiles the leading contender in Egypt's presidential election, ex army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
updated 4:09 AM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
Hamdeen Sabahi is considered a heavy underdog in the race for Egypt's presidency, but he's sure he's going to win.
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
A court in Cairo sentences ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to three years in prison for embezzlement.
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Thu May 22, 2014
An Egyptian man waits for tourists to take them on camel rides at the Giza pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo on February 14, 2011.
Instead of focusing on antiquities, Egypt's new "We miss you" video features dancers, malls and ritzy hotels.
updated 11:14 AM EDT, Thu May 8, 2014
Former Arab League head Amre Moussa says presidential favorite Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is right to stand up to "terrorists."
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Thu May 8, 2014
Can music heal the rift of revolution and conflict in Egypt? CNN's Reza Sayah meets the Egyptian band trying.
updated 5:20 PM EDT, Tue May 6, 2014
Egypt's former military chief doesn't mince words when he describes what would happen if he wins the presidency.
updated 5:37 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Are threats of sexual violence an everyday reality for women in Cairo?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Mon March 24, 2014
Interim Egyptian President Adly Mansour sends letter to the family of jailed Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Sun March 9, 2014
CNN's Sara Sidner talks about stepping in for Al Jazeera reporters since they have been barred from working in Egypt.
updated 7:34 AM EDT, Sat March 15, 2014
How are the Arab Spring nations faring? What successes can they boast and what challenges await?
ADVERTISEMENT