UK & World News

  • 14 January 2014, 9:49

Egypt: Voting Begins On New Constitution

Voting on Egypt's new constitution is under way, the first ballot since the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi last year.

A yes vote is expected and the result could encourage a bid for the presidency by the head of the army, General Abdel Fattah al Sisi.

Gen Sisi forced Mr Morsi, Egypt's first freely-elected leader, from office in July following mass protests involving millions of people.

Islamist opponents view Gen Sisi as the man who caused violence and bloodshed unprecedented in the nation's modern history. At least 1,000 people, mostly Islamists, have been killed in clashes, with thousands imprisoned.

Supporters of Mr Morsi have called for a boycott of the poll, which is set to last for two days. They have been on the end of a brutal crackdown since the coup. 

Mr Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement was declared a terrorist organisation in December. He is currently on trial over the deaths of protesters when he was in power and his escape from prison during the 2011 uprising that got rid of former president Hosni Mubarak.

Backers of the interim government argue the referendum is the first of several votes which will restore elected rule by the end of the year.

In a speech on Sunday, Interim President Adly Mansour urged Egyptians to cast their ballots. He said: "I call on you to live up to the responsibility you owe to your nation and to ensure a better future for this country to go to your polling station and vote."

The capital Cairo has been filled with banners urging Egyptians to vote yes, with many featuring military motifs such as a general's hat, a reference to Gen Sisi.

Tensions in the country are high. Thousands of soldiers and police have been deployed to guard polling stations.

Rights lawyer Ragia Omran told the AFP news agency at least seven activists have been detained in the last week for distributing posters or leaflets critical of the new constitution. Most were released after a few days.

A bomb exploded outside a court in Cairo less than two hours before polling stations opened. A police general cited by AFP said it caused little damage and no injuries.

The new draft of the constitution has removed a lot of the Islamist-inspired wording of Mr Morsi's constitution. This was suspended when he was removed from power.

Supporters claim it expands women's rights and freedom of speech.

The powers of the military have been boosted.

If passed, the army would have the right to appoint the defence minister for the next eight years and prosecute civilians for attacks on the armed forces.

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