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
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
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: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?