Egypt Opposition Vows to Overturn Islamist Constitution

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi
Mohamed Mursi, Egypt's president. Source: AFP/Getty Images

Egyptian opposition leaders alleged foul play and vowed to overturn an Islamist-backed constitution that unofficial results showed was approved in a referendum, indicating tensions troubling the country’s transition are likely to continue.

Unofficial results released after the second and final phase of the constitutional referendum showed the charter passed with about 64 percent of the vote, according to a tally by the Muslim Brotherhood posted on the group’s website. Turnout in the second round was about 33 percent, according to unofficial figures, roughly the same as in the first phase on Dec. 15.

Supporters of President Mohamed Mursi, who ordered the draft charter to be put to a vote, say the process is key to restoring order in the Arab world’s most populous nation as it struggles with a faltering economy, high unemployment and a flight of foreign capital. Opponents including Christians, youth activists and secular groups say the document bolsters the role of Islam in the state and fails to protect certain freedoms.

Opposition groups “are committed to continuing our collective, peaceful struggle to bring down this constitution as soon as possible through legitimate means,” former presidential candidate and opposition leader Hamdeen Sabahi told reporters in Cairo yesterday. “We trust that the door of peaceful protests and peaceful civic resistance is open to Egyptians to topple this constitution.”

Final Outcome

The elections committee will set a date for announcing the final outcome of the vote when it finishes receiving and tallying results from polling stations, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported yesterday.

The premium investors demand to hold Egyptian debt over similar-maturity U.S. securities has climbed 44 basis points, or 0.44 of a percentage point, to 452 since Mursi sparked the constitutional dispute Nov. 22 by granting himself extra powers.

The cost of protecting the country’s debt against default for five years surged to 490, according to CMA, which is owned by McGraw-Hill Cos. and compiles prices quoted by dealers in the privately negotiated market. That ranks it among the 10 riskiest borrowers in the world, ahead of Iraq and Lebanon. Egypt’s benchmark EGX 30 Index of stocks closed down 1.5 percent yesterday.

Low Turnout

“A low turnout is a major problem because it shows that there isn’t a broad public buy-in,” Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, said by phone. While the Muslim Brotherhood “can now claim more of a mandate,” the turnout “undermines the final results to some extent.”

Responding to claims of vote-rigging and other violations, Essam el-Erian, vice chairman of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, said “all accusations against the referendum process are untrue,” MENA said. He said the will of voters must be respected and called for a national dialogue to end divisions, it reported.

The next step is to hold elections for the lower house of parliament, which was disbanded by court order earlier this year. Mursi issued a presidential decree naming members to the upper house, normally a consultative body, which will have temporary legislative authority once the charter is adopted.

Vice President Mahmoud Mekki resigned during the second round of voting, citing a conflict between politics and his profession as a judge. His departure comes after several of Mursi’s advisers quit in the past month. Khalil el-Anani, a Middle East scholar at Durham University in England, described Mekki’s decision as a “big blow” to the president.

Mursi’s “credibility and legitimacy are becoming increasingly questioned, which means, with the current volatile situation and political polarization, more instability for the country,” el-Anani said in a phone interview.

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