Charter opens road for Sisi but youth unhappy

January 20, 2014 - 4:58:26 am

Supporters of army-backed government celebrate in Tahrir Square in Cairo after a new constitution was approved on Saturday.

CAIRO: The approval of Egypt’s constitution bolsters the powerful army chief but a large number of youths who helped topple two presidents within three years shunned the vote on the new charter.

Egyptian voters have approved the Tuesday-Wednesday referendum by 98.1 percent, officials announced Saturday, and the results are seen as nod to General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi to run for president.

Sisi led the overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in July following massive protests against his one year-rule, which came after a popular uprising in 2011 toppled his predecessor Hosni Mubarak.

Youth movements at the forefront of protests that ended the rules of Mursi and Mubarak hardly objected when the military-installed authorities launched a deadly crackdown on Mursi’s supporters.

Nor did they object when his Muslim Brotherhood movement was banned and designated a “terrorist” organisation.

But they voiced their outrage when the military-backed authorities passed a law in November banning unauthorised demonstrations. And this appears to have been clearly reflected during the voting.

Sisi had urged the youths to participate in the referendum, saying they formed “more than 50 percent” of Egypt’s 85-million strong population.

But reporters who toured polling stations said youths did not massively participate in the voting and analysts confirmed that many young people clamouring for change in Egypt shunned the polls. Political analyst Hassan Nafea said turnout was “disappointing”.

“The youth refused to participate in the referendum because they consider what is happening as a counter-revolution to the January revolution (against Hosni Mubarak),” said Nafea.

Electoral commission head Nabil Salib announced the official results on Saturday and said turnout “reached 38.6 percent” of 53 million registered voters, with only 1.9 percent voting “no.”

That turnout shows “that the revolution of June 30 was a popular revolution,” said another government official, of the day when millions took to the streets across Egypt to demand Mursi’s ouster.

The new charter replaces an Islamist-inspired one adopted in a December 2012 referendum under Mursi with about two-thirds of the vote and a 33 percent turnout.

Nafea said the result showed, however, an overall backing for Sisi to run for president because “a large segment of Egyptians see the Brotherhood as a threat to the society”.

The general is wildly popular among many of the millions who took to the streets against Mursi, but the Islamist’s followers revile him for what they say was a “coup” against Egypt’s first freely elected and civilian president.

The Brotherhood, reeling from a crackdown by the military-installed authorities has seen thousands of Islamists arrested and more than 1,000 people killed, dismissed the referendum as a “farce”.

“For us it is ironical that the constitution talks of freedom of speech and yet those who said no to the constitution have been jailed,” said activist Mohamed Ghorab of the No to Military Trials of Civilians group.

“For many this is a reminder of the previous Mubarak era regime,” he said.

Prominent youth leaders of the 2011 uprising against Mubarak have been jailed in recent weeks.

They include Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel, convicted in December for organising an unlicensed protest — just days after a law was passed in November banning all but police-sanctioned demonstrations.

These convictions have been denounced by rights groups and experts who says they threaten the gains achieved since the toppling of Mubarak and signal a return of a police state. 

Youths have also been angered by a flurry of reports in the local media that gave unflattering accounts of their role in the 2011 uprising. Such articles, said the analyst Nafea, are seen by the youths as “an attempt to steal the June 30 revolution (against Mursi) for the benefit” of Mubarak cronies.

The non-Islamist youngsters “who participated in the revolt against Mubarak did not do that for a return to autocracy,” said James Dorsey of Singapore’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

“They are asking questions, and the question is whether the new regime will believe in liberal politics and there is no indication that it is going to do so,” he added.

Meanwhile, ousted president Mohamed Mursi and 24 others, including top activists who opposed him and his predecessor, will stand trial for insulting the judiciary, state media and judicial sources said yesterday.

The defendants have been charged for allegedly making comments in the media and online that showed “disrespect and hatred for the courts and the judiciary,” state news agency Mena said. It was unclear whether the defendants would be tried together, and the latest charges will be the fourth set of proceedings against Mursi since his ouster.

Under the latest round of charges, Mursi has been accused for giving a speech days before his ouster by the army in July, when he allegedly accused a judge of overseeing electoral fraud in a 2005 vote, Mena said. AFP

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