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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links