Middle East

Egypt constitutional referendum result delayed

Police stand guard near a banner outside the constitutional court put up by supporters of President Mohamed Morsi, 23 Dec
Image caption The constitution is expected to pass by a comfortable margin

The result of a controversial referendum on Egypt's new constitution has been delayed as officials check allegations of fraud.

Early unofficial results have suggested more than 60% of voters said "yes" to the document, which is endorsed by President Mohammed Morsi.

But officials are still investigating opposition allegations of fraud and the result will now come on Tuesday.

There has been violent unrest in the past few weeks over the constitution.

If the document passes, elections must take place within two months and the deep polarisation in the country is likely to continue, the BBC's Bethany Bell in Cairo reports.

In the meantime, legislative powers will pass to parliament's upper chamber, the Islamist-controlled Shura Council.

'Vote for stability'

State media reports of the results following Saturday's second and final round of the referendum suggested that some 63% of voters had backed the charter. Turnout was low, estimated at 30%.

A member of the supreme election commission said on Monday appeals and allegations of irregularities in the voting process were still being investigated. He said the results would be announced on Tuesday.

Earlier, another member of the commission, Mohamed el-Tanobly, told Agence France-Presse it wanted the referendum to "really reflect the will of the Egyptian people".

The opposition National Salvation Front said on Sunday the vote had been marred by "fraud and violations".

It said these included polling stations opening late, Islamists seeking to influence voters and a lack of judges to supervise.

Spokesman Amr Hamzawy told a news conference the National Salvation Front had urged the commission to investigate the irregularities but he also appeared to anticipate a "yes" vote.

He said: "We do not consider this constitution legitimate. We will continue to attempt to bring down the constitution peacefully and democratically."

The opposition says the draft constitution fails to protect the freedoms and human rights that were sought in the uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak's rule last year.

It accuses the president of pushing through a text that favours Islamists and does not sufficiently protect the rights of women or Christians.

But the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of Mr Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, said it hoped the "yes" vote would begin to heal divisions and bring stability.

On the Freedom and Justice Party Facebook page, its leader, Saad al-Katatni, wrote that its members were "extending our hands to all political parties and all national forces", adding: "We will all start a new page".

However, the crisis is continuing to affect the country's economic status. On Monday, the ratings agency Standard and Poor's downgraded Egypt's long-term credit rating because of the ongoing tension.

Lowering the country's long-term rating to B- from B, it said: "A further downgrade is possible if a significant worsening of the domestic political situation results in a sharp deterioration of economic indicators such as foreign exchange reserves or the government's deficit."

The latest unrest began after Mr Morsi issued a decree on 22 November stripping the judiciary of the power to challenge his decisions.

After an outcry, the president revoked much of the decree, but he refused to back down on the referendum on the draft constitution.