CAIRO: The approval of Egypt’s constitution bolsters the powerful army chief but a large number of youths who helped topple two presidents within three years shunned the vote on the new charter.
Egyptian voters have approved the Tuesday to Wednesday referendum by 98.1 percent, officials announced on Saturday, and the results are seen as nod to Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to run for president.
Sisi led the overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July following massive protests against his one-year rule, which came after an uprising in 2011 toppled his predecessor Hosni Mubarak.
Youth movements at the forefront of protests that ended the rules of Morsi and Mubarak hardly objected when the military-installed authorities launched a deadly crackdown on Morsi’s supporters.
Nor did they object when his Muslim Brotherhood movement was banned and designated a “terrorist” organization.
But they voiced their outrage when the military-backed authorities passed a law in November banning unauthorized demonstrations.
And this appears to have been clearly reflected during the voting.
Sisi had urged the youths to participate in the referendum, saying they formed “more than 50 percent” of Egypt’s 85-million strong population.
But the youths did not participate in the voting in strength and analysts confirmed many young people clamoring for change shunned the polls.
Political analyst Hassan Nafea said turnout was “disappointing.”
“The youth refused to participate in the referendum because they consider what is happening as a counter-revolution to the January revolution [against Hosni Mubarak],” Nafea said.
Electoral commission head Nabil Salib announced the results on Saturday and said turnout “reached 38.6 percent” of 53 million registered voters, with only 1.9 percent voting “no.”
Salib also acknowledged a certain percentage of youths had not voted as the referendum coincided with exams, otherwise “turnout would have been higher.”
But Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood said in a statement young voters “were not busy with exams, but busy with demonstrations against the coup d’etat and the invalid referendum.”
The new charter replaces an Islamist-inspired one adopted in a December 2012 referendum under Morsi with about two-thirds of the vote and a 33 percent turnout.
European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, on Sunday voiced approval of Egypt’s “largely orderly” referendum, but said she expected it to usher in civilian leadership.
Ashton said the EU could not verify alleged irregularities but stressed that “these do not appear to have fundamentally affected the outcome.
Sisi has said he would run for the presidency if there was a popular demand.
The general is wildly popular with the millions who took to the streets against Morsi, but the Islamist’s followers revile him for what they say was a “coup” against Egypt’s first freely elected president.
The Brotherhood, reeling from a crackdown by the military-installed authorities that has seen thousands of Islamists arrested and more than 1,000 people killed, dismissed the referendum as a “farce.”