Polls are set to open in Egypt in a constitutional referendum, the first ballot since the military overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and an event likely to spawn a presidential bid by army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Few doubt that Egyptians, who staged mass protests against Morsi’s rule before his ouster, will turn out in big numbers on Tuesday and vote “yes” in the two-day referendum, a milestone in the army-backed government’s political road map.
Sisi deposed Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected head of state, in July. His Islamist foes see Sisi as the mastermind of a coup that kindled the worst internal strife in Egypt’s modern history and brought back what critics call a police state. But many Egyptians are weary of the political upheaval that has gripped Egypt and shattered its economy since they rose up to topple autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and they view Sisi as a decisive figure who can reinstate stability.
Analysts say the referendum is also turning out to be a vote on the popularity of a man whose image features on posters across Cairo. If he runs for president, Sisi is widely expected to win. “He’s a man,” said Om Sami, who lives in a Cairo slum, summing up a widespread view that bringing back powerful military officers to rule would be acceptable, even though it could undermine democratic gains made after Mubarak’s fall. The situation does not please us, but we’ll vote ‘yes’ and God willing it will get better.”
This will be the third time Egyptians have voted on constitutional arrangements since the historic uprising against Mubarak, a former air force chief, in January 2011, and overall the sixth time they have gone to the polls since his downfall. The constitution will replace one signed into law by Morsi a little more than a year ago after it was approved in a referendum.
The new text strips out disputed Islamist language while strengthening state institutions that defied Morsi: the military, the police and the judiciary. In a leaked audio recording Sisi addressed his handling of the new constitution. In an interview with al-Masri al-youm newspaper he said the entire text should be rewritten, not modified. He said simply modifying would be to cheat the system. The interview took place several months ago. REUTERS