Egypt votes for a new constitution - and to legitimise an army coup

Observers say the referendum is an attempt by the authorities to secure a nationwide stamp of approval for the coup that unseated former President Mohamed Morsi last July

Cairo

A long-awaited vote on Egypt’s new constitution started with a bomb, continued with clashes that left at least four people dead and looks set to end with victory for a government that has done all it can to prevent any other outcome.

The referendum is ostensibly a straightforward plebiscite on the country’s new national charter – the document that would replace a previous constitution drafted under Muslim Brotherhood rule during the winter of 2012.

But in reality many observers have billed it as an attempt by the Egyptian authorities to secure a nationwide stamp of approval for the coup that unseated former President Mohamed Morsi last July.

Perhaps more importantly, the vote – set to be concluded on Wednesday – is being seen as a prelude to a presidential bid by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s popular but divisive army chief, in elections due to follow later this year.

Robert Springborg, a US-based expert on Egypt’s military, told The Independent that he believed the referendum was little more than a vote on the legitimacy of the army’s putsch against the Brotherhood last year.

“Those who made the coup are responsible for the constitution,” he said. “The two are basically inseparable in the minds of Egyptians.”

General Sisi himself – whose predilection for designer shades occasionally lends him the aura of a South American demagogue – has appeared more and more amenable to the idea of running.

According to the website of the state-owned Al Ahram newspaper, he declared in a recent military seminar that if he were to put himself forward, it would be “at the request of the people”. In previous statements he has either ruled himself out or appeared far more ambiguous.

The idea of Egypt’s former spy chief elevating himself from putsch leader to the presidential palace may horrify lawmakers in the West. But on the streets of Cairo – which for three years have echoed to the sound of tear gas, gunfire and burning vehicles – there is widespread support for the move.

Aboul Fadil Younis, a 58-year-old sports coach, gave a cheerful thumbs-up when asked how he would react to a Sisi presidency.

He said that the army chief was “the solution to all our problems” – including the irhaab, or terrorism, which many Egyptians are convinced is being deployed against the state by the ousted Muslim Brotherhood.

“This referendum will be the last breath of the Brotherhood,” he said.

Mr Younis was standing close to the scene of today’s bomb explosion, which targeted a courthouse in the working-class neighbourhood of Imbaba. Nobody was injured, but the attack will give credence to the view held by many Egyptians that the country is in need of a strongman leader after years of chaos and unrest.

There have been scores of militant attacks on police targets and army checkpoints since last summer. The most high profile recent attack was a deadly bombing last month in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, claimed by a fundamentalist group based in north Sinai.

Egypt faces a very real terrorist threat, but so far there has been no direct evidence of Brotherhood involvement in such attacks. Nevertheless, thousands of the group’s members have been arrested and last month the Egyptian authorities designated it a terrorist organisation.

As lines of voters began forming this morning, not a single person interviewed by The Independent said they would vote down the constitution. Several said one of the main things they were looking for was stability.

“Today is like a festival,” said Ahmad Salahadin, a 55-year-old businessman who was lining up to cast his ballot. “After today, the country will be able to go forward in a better way.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future