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March 6, 2021

Egypt referendum amid tight security

Egyptians voted amid tight security in a two-day referendum on a new constitution, which could pave the way for fresh elections, the BBC reports. The new charter aims to replace the constitution passed under Islamist President Mohammed Morsi months before he was ousted by the army. The military wants a strong Yes vote to endorse Mr Morsi’s removal. His Muslim Brotherhood, now designated a terrorist group, is boycotting the vote and there are fears of violence.
Shortly before voting began, an explosion took place near a court building in Cairo’s Imbaba district, although no casualties were reported. However, one person was killed during an anti-referendum protest in Bani Suef, south of Cairo, the governor there told the BBC.
A huge security operation is being mounted for the two days of voting. The interior ministry says 200,000 police officers, 150 central security units and 200 combat groups are being deployed around polling stations on both days. Army chief Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi visited one polling station in north Cairo, telling guards there: “Work hard. We need the referendum to be completely secured.” Democratic or not, she says, the referendum is seen by many as more than a ballot on a new constitution – it is widely viewed as a verdict on the removal of Mr Morsi. Television pictures showed long lines of voters at some Cairo polling stations.
Interim Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi has called the referendum the “most critical moment” for Egypt.  It also stipulates that the military’s budget will be beyond civilian oversight. A Yes vote could also pave the way for fresh presidential and parliamentary elections. It now seems certain that Gen Sisi, who backed Morsi’s removal following mass protests, will run for president. Interim President Adly Mansour said after voting: “The people must prove to dark terrorism that they fear nothing.”
The new constitution was drafted by a 50-member committee that included only two representatives of Islamist parties. The authorities maintain that the new draft delivers more rights and freedoms, and is a crucial step on the road to stability.
Under the new constitution:The president may serve two four-year terms and can be impeached by parliament, Islam remains the state religion – but freedom of belief is absolute, giving some protection to minorities, the state guarantees “equality between men and women”, parties may not be formed based on “religion, race, gender or geography”.
Critics say the new constitution favours the army at the expense of the people, and fails to deliver on the revolution of 2011 which overthrew Hosni Mubarak.  It retains a provision allowing civilians to be tried in military courts, and it gives the military control over the appointment of the defence minister for the next eight years.

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