Egyptians vote overwhelmingly for constitutional reforms

Israel’s former envoy to Cairo warns that Muslim Brotherhood may be the referendum’s greatest beneficiary.

By OREN KESSLER, REUTERS
March 21, 2011 02:31
3 minute read.
Woman shows inked finger after voting in Egypt

Woman shows inked finger after voting in Egypt 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

A majority of Egyptians who casts votes in a referendum have backed constitutional changes that will allow Egypt’s military rulers to move swiftly to elections, a judicial official announced on Sunday.

A parliamentary vote may now take place as early as September.

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Muhammad Ahmed Attiyah, the head of the supreme judicial committee who supervised the vote, told a news conference that 77 percent of the more than 18.5 million people who voted supported the changes. Turnout was 41.2% of the 45 million eligible voters, he said.

The reforms were backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, a well-organized Islamist group, and remnants of deposed president Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, which had called on voters to support the changes.

Secular reform groups and prominent advocates of change including presidential candidates Amr Moussa and Mohamed ElBaradei had rejected the amendments, arguing that Egypt needs an entirely new constitution. Moussa is a former Egyptian foreign minister and the outgoing Arab League chief, and ElBaradei the former head of the IAEA, the UN’s nuclear watchdog.

Gideon Ben-Ami, Israel’s ambassador to Cairo from 2001 to 2003, said that from Israel’s perspective, a Moussa government would be far less amicable toward its eastern neighbor than its predecessor.

“His record as foreign minister was one of Nasserism,” Ben-Ami said, referring to Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s pan-Arab nationalist ethos. “He toed a very consistently anti-Israel line. He isn’t exactly a darling of ours.”



Ben-Ami noted, however, that Moussa has said that if elected Egypt’s president, he would honor Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.

On ElBaradei, he said, “We know him from his term as head of the IAEA in Vienna. There too we came into conflict with him several times over his restrained, compromising stance on Iran’s nuclear program.

“He also lashed out at us a few times over our nuclear program,” Ben-Ami said, “but he too has expressed himself positively on the peace treaty – he hasn’t come out against it and he said he would honor it.”

Ben-Ami said Israelis are rightly disconcerted about an emboldened Muslim Brotherhood.

“In my day, the Muslim Brothers numbered 17 parliamentarians – not on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood but as independents, because the organization was banned. But in the elections of 2005, they leapt to 84 seats, which is one fifth. There’s no reason they won’t succeed now as well, when elections are held, should the referendum go through.”

“They have grand ambitions,” Ben- Ami added. “But this is a long-term process, not a day-to-day thing. Once they are granted legitimacy by the constitutional reforms, they will be considered a genuine political party like all the others and their path is open. What’s worrying is that they are the most organized – the other parties suffer from organizational difficulties, with all due respect to their revolutionary fervor.”

An early election is seen favoring the Brotherhood and remnants of the Mubarak administration. Decades of oppression under Mubarak crushed other groups, which are arguing for a longer interim period to allow political life to recover.

“The main fear is that it will be interpreted by some of the political forces that supported the referendum as a kind of support for their programs, and I mean the Islamists,” political analyst Diaa Rashwan told Reuters.

Approval of the amendments would allow Egypt’s military rulers to move along the path they have charted toward parliamentary and presidential elections that will allow them to hand power back to a civilian, elected government. The military has said a parliamentary election could happen as early as September, with a presidential election after that.


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