Mon, Dec 17, 2012 - Page 1 News List

Egyptians narrowly back constitution, rival camps say

Reuters, CAIRO

Egyptians voted narrowly in favor of a constitution shaped by Islamists, but opposed by other groups who fear it will divide the Arab world’s biggest nation, officials in rival camps said yesterday after the first round of a two-stage referendum.

Next week’s second round is likely to give another “yes” vote as it includes districts seen as more sympathetic toward Islamists, analysts say, meaning the constitution would be approved. However, a close win would give Islamist Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi only limited cause for celebration by showing the wide rifts in a country where he needs to build consensus on tough economic reforms.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s party, which propelled Morsi to office in a June election, said 56.5 percent backed the text. Official results are not expected until after the next round.

While an opposition official conceded the “yes” camp appeared to have won the first round, the opposition National Salvation Front said it did not acknowledge unofficial results.

It also said in a statement that “the voting process in the referendum was marred by many breaches, violations and shortcomings.”

During the vote, rights groups reported abuses like polling stations opening late, officials telling people how to vote and bribery.

A joint statement by seven human rights groups urged the referendum’s organizers “to avoid these mistakes in the second stage of the referendum and to restage the first phase again.”

Morsi and his backers say the constitution is vital to move Egypt’s democratic transition forward. Opponents say the basic law is too Islamist and tramples on minority rights.

Although the build-up to Saturday’s vote was marred by deadly protests, it passed off calmly, though unofficial tallies indicated turnout was about a third of the 26 million people eligible to vote this time.

The vote was staggered because many judges needed to oversee polling staged a boycott in protest.

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