Egyptian voters back new constitution in referendum

Referendum voters in Egypt (22 December 2012) Although a majority of voters backed the constitution, turnout was low

Nearly two-thirds of voters in an Egyptian referendum have supported a proposed new constitution, the election commission has announced.

In all, 63.8% of voters cast Yes ballots in two stages, on 15 and 22 December. The commission announced the result live on state-run Nile News TV.

Parliamentary elections must now take place within two months.

Critics say the document, which has triggered mass protests, betrays the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

He was ousted from power in February 2011 after nearly 30 years of authoritarian rule.

Egypt referendum result

  • Votes for constitution 10,693,911 (63.8%)
  • Votes against 6,061,101 (36.2%)
  • Turnout 32.9% (17,058,317 votes including 303,395 declared invalid)

Source: Egyptian election commission

'Bridge divisions'

After the referendum result was announced, dozens of anti-constitution protesters blocked one of Cairo's main bridges, setting tyres alight and stopping traffic.

Prime Minister Hisham Qandil said there was "no loser" in the vote and called for co-operation with the government to restore the economy.

The US state department responded to the vote by urging all sides in Egypt to commit themselves "to engage in an inclusive process to negotiate their differences".

In a direct appeal to President Mohammed Morsi, spokesman Patrick Ventrell said that as democratically elected leader he had a "special responsibility... to bridge divisions, build trust and broaden support for the political process".

President Morsi's mainly Islamist supporters say that the new constitution will secure democracy and encourage stability.

Constitution at a glance

  • Sharia remains the main source of legislation
  • Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's leading authority, to be consulted on "matters related to Sharia"
  • Christianity and Judaism to be the main source of legislation for Christians and Jews
  • Right to beliefs protected; state's obligations limited to Islam, Christianity and Judaism
  • Limits president to two four-year terms of office

Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie, on his Twitter account, called on Egyptians to "begin building our country's rebirth with free will... men, women, Muslims and Christians".

But opponents accuse the president, who belongs to the Brotherhood, of pushing through a text that favours Islamists and does not sufficiently protect the rights of women or Christians, who make up about 10% of the population.

Turnout was 32.9% of Egypt's total of 52 million voters, election commission President Samir Abul Maati told a news conference in Cairo.

Mr Maati rejected opposition allegations that fake judges supervised some of the polling - one of several complaints relating to voting fraud made by the opposition National Salvation Front after each stage of voting.

Egypt has recently seen large demonstrations by both critics and supporters of the constitution, which have occasionally turned violent.

Before the first round of voting on 15 December, the opposition considered boycotting the referendum before deciding to back a No vote. Polling had to be held on two days because of a lack of judges prepared to supervise the process.

The political divisions surrounding the referendum have led to economic uncertainty and a reported rush to buy US dollars.

Currency exchanges in parts of Cairo were said to have run out of dollars. Before the result was announced, the authorities declared a limit of $10,000 (£6,200) for travellers into and out of Egypt.

On Monday, Egypt's central bank issued a statement saying that the banks had "stable liquidity" to safeguard all deposits.

The BBC's Bethany Bell in Cairo says President Morsi's government will soon have to take some unpopular measures to prop up the economy, which could hurt his party at the ballot box.

With Egypt about to enter a parliamentary election campaign, the country remains very deeply split, our correspondent says.

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