CAIRO (AFP) – Egypt’s first exercise in democracy in decades was hailed as a success on Monday, but the result of a key referendum has raised fears in some quarters that Islamists will hijack looming elections.
Egyptians on Saturday voted 77% in favour of proposed constitutional amendments intended to guide the Arab world’s most populous nation through new presidential and parliamentary elections within six months.
The Muslim Brotherhood threw its huge influence and grassroots organisation behind a “yes” vote, although youth groups that spearheaded the protests that forced Hosni Mubarak to resign last month had called for a “no” vote.
They argued the timetable set by the military was too tight for them to organise at grassroots level, that the Muslim Brotherhood would benefit and that the changes to the Mubarak-era constitution were too limited.
In an editorial, the mass-circulation daily Al-Ahram said the referendum was a “win for democracy,” a view echoed by the state-owned Al-Gomhouria which said: “Everybody has won in this referendum, whether they voted yes or no.”
The Coalition of the Revolution’s Youth urged supporters not to feel defeated after the result, and called on everyone to respect the result of the “historic democratic process” and quickly begin work on the next phase.
“We are now on the doorstep of a new era, in which Egyptians will shape their state for decades to come… we must work to carry on fulfilling the ambitions of the revolution,” the group said on its Facebook page.
But others felt more threatened by the result.
“The referendum, while it was free of fraud, was not free of ‘influence’, especially by the Muslim Brotherhood and the religious trend in general,” wrote Suleiman Gouda in the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.
“The mosques were used by these groups to influence the voters,” he said.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition movement in the country and officially banned in the Mubarak era, used its new found freedom — and organisational skills — to campaign for a “yes” vote.
The group, and other more fundamentalist religious movements, presented the “yes” vote as a religious duty, while many at polling stations said they voted “yes” for the sake of “stability” rather than religious inclinations.
In the run-up to the vote, “the ‘yes’ camp had been warning people of suffering on the day of judgment if they don’t vote yes,” wrote columnist Salama Ahmed Salama in the independent daily Al-Shorouk.
Gouda urged the army to oversee the country’s handover to a secular figure.
“The country must be handed over to an elected secular president, not to the Brotherhood, not because we are against them as a movement, but because the current exceptional circumstances work in their favour and not the others,” wrote Gouda. “There has to be fair competition.”
More than 14 million Egyptians approved the constitutional amendments and four million said “no”, organising commission chairman Mohammed Attiya said
The changes approved are by themselves uncontroversial, although critics argued they did not go far enough in overhauling the Mubarak-era charter, which they said needed to be completely rewritten.
The president will serve a maximum of two four-year terms and will no longer have the power to refer civilians to the military courts.