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Over 98% of Egyptians support draft new constitution

January 18, 2014, 21:37 UTC+3 CAIRO

A constitutional referendum is the first practical step under the roadmap worked out by the army after the removal of President Mohamed Morsi on July 3

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CAIRO, January 18, 21:23 /ITAR-TASS/. The draft new constitution was supported by 98.1 percent of Egyptians who voted in a referendum held last and this week, the High Elections Committee said on Saturday, January 18.

The turnout was 38.6 percent with more than 20.5 million people casting their ballots in the nationwide plebiscite.

About 95 percent of Egyptians living in other countries voted for the draft: about 98 percent in Saudi Arabia; 99 percent on Palestinian territories; 97.2 percent in Qatar; 96 percent in the United Arab Emirates; 93.6 percent in Moscow, 99 percent in New York, and almost 96 percent in Washington, the Egyptian High Elections Committee Spokesperson Hisham Mokhtar said earlier this week.

The turnout abroad was 15.1 percent, which represents about 100,000 people. This marks a significant decrease in activity from the previous referendum on the draft proposed by Islamic fundamentalists in December 2012, when 42 percent of 681,000 eligible voters came to the polling stations.

Mokhtar explained the lower turnout by the cancellation of electronic voting that had been used by more than 160,000 people the previous time. However now more people came to the polling stations than in 2012, when only 86,000 voters cast ballots.

The referendum on Egypt’s draft new constitution started on January 8. During five days, citizens of Egypt living outside the country voted for or against the draft worked out by the constitutional commission last autumn.

The voting took place at the Egyptian diplomatic missions in all countries. The largest number of Egyptians - 46 percent of all Egyptians employed abroad - work in Saudi Arabia. More than 312,000 Egyptians are registered in Al Riyadh and Jeddah alone.

In Egypt, the referendum took place on January 14-15. Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour announced in the middle of December 2013 that a constitutional referendum would be held in the country in the middle of January and would last two days.

“Egypt is facing a critical moment that will decide its future,” Mansour said in an address to the nation. “I urge you to say ‘yes’ to the new constitution which is a step towards achieving our people’s goals.”

He said the new constitution defended freedoms and human rights and ensured the balance between different branches of government. “It is the starting point for building real institutions of a modern democratic state. We are facing complex challenges, but we can overcome them. There will be no going back. We will go further in order to build our future as it is the time for us to fulfil the hopes and aspirations of our people,” the president said.

He also urged his opponents to give up stubbornness and arrogance and said that there would be no room for strife and division in future Egypt.

A constitutional referendum is the first practical step under the roadmap worked out by the army after the removal of President Mohamed Morsi on July 3. It should be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections. The previous constitution, which was adopted during the reign of Islamic fundamentalists and which sparked numerous disputes in society, was suspended this past summer by the military after the deposition of the president and dissolution of the parliament.

The new constitution was handed over to Mansour on December 3, 2013 by a 50-member ad hoc commission which had worked on it for two months. The constitution has 247 articles. The draft sets forth a new mechanism for electing the parliament, which will have one chamber. The upper house will be disbanded. The new parliament will consist of 450 members and will get a new name - House of Representative. Two-thirds of MPs will be elected from among independent candidates and the remaining one-third from among the candidates nominated by political parties. The head of state can appoint 5 percent of MP at his own discretion.

The new constitution bans the creation of political parties and associations on a religious basis and allows civilians to be tried by military tribunals in exceptional cases. The latter provision has raised serious objections from human rights activists and political forces. The phrase “Sharia principles form the foundation of legislation” has been returned to the constitution in its original version that existed from 1971 until the moment when Islamic fundamentalists removed the word “principles”, thus changing the entire meaning of the phrase.

The draft constitution proclaims Egypt to be an Islamic state with a civil system and government, with Arabic being its official language.

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