Egyptian voters overwhelmingly approved proposed constitutional amendments in a national referendum held Saturday (March 19th), paving the way for new presidential and parliamentary elections within six months.
Justice Mohammed Ahmed Atiyah, chairman of Supreme Judiciary Committee supervising the referendum, announced the results Sunday. The percentage who voted "yes" to the constitutional amendments was 77.2%, or 14 million voters. The number who voted "no" was 22.8%, or about four million voters.
Attiyah confirmed the turnout was 41%, or 18,366,000 voters.
Major General Mamdouh Shahin, a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, announced that a revised constitution would be published that will include the amended articles approved by voters. It will serve as an interim constitution for governing the country during the transition period.
Shahin told the press after the results were announced that the voter turnout reflects how civilised the Egyptian people are and that the country is proceeding toward democracy.
In accordance with the amendments, it is expected that parliamentary elections will be held in the next few months and will be followed by establishment of an assembly that will draft a new constitution. A new constitution is expected to be complete within a year.
While a new constitution is being drafted, presidential elections must be held before the end of 2011. According to the new amendments, an elected president can only serve two, four-year terms, and has to select a vice-president within 60 days. Independent and opposition candidates will be able to run for president.
Many political activists announced their agreement with the referendum results, regardless of whether they supported or opposed the amendments. They also declared their confidence that the electoral process was transparent and unaffected by any fraud.
Sameh Ashour, vice president of the Arab Nasserite Party, told Al-Shorfa, "The Nasserite Party accepts the results of the referendum in its respect for the principles of democracy."
"The differences between opponents and supporters of the amendments were over the timing for a complete constitutional change and over the parliamentary elections, but the two sides agreed about the need for change which we must stick to now," he said.
Opponents of the amendments argue that priority should have been given to the preparation of a new constitution and to presidential elections before parliamentary elections were scheduled. This would have given new political parties an opportunity to build popular support and would prevent the National Democratic Party (NDP) and the Muslim Brotherhood from dominating the next parliament.
The Coalition of the January 25 Youth Revolution announced their acceptance of the referendum results even though they did not support the amendments. Mustafa Shawki, a coalition member, said, "The coalition will protect the will of Egyptians, even if they differ with the coalition's position."
Diaa Rashwan, an expert at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al-Shorfa that the broad participation in the referendum was a positive development "not seen in Egypt in any previous period".
Rashwan criticised the use of religious slogans during the referendum, which he said influenced the result and encouraged many people to vote "yes". He called for a law to regulate electoral advertising that prohibits the use of religious slogans in upcoming elections.
Rashwan said Egyptians who voted "yes", wanted to "vote for stability and security and a transition to a new stage in building a democratic state."
The referendum served as a day of celebration for many citizens. Ahmad Yusuf and Amr Fouad are friends whose difference of opinion did not prevent them from enjoying the day.
Yusuf spoke with Al-Shorfa in front of the Abbas El Akkad School, in Nasr City, east of Cairo where participation exceeded 10,000 voters. He said, "I voted 'no' on the constitutional amendments. I do not want parliamentary elections first, and I do not want the Muslim Brotherhood and the NDP to dominate political life again."
But his friend Fouad interrupted him, saying it was "necessary to prepare for the current stage and for life to return to normal. We can try to limit the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Party through our vote in the parliamentary elections and not through postponing them."
In the central Cairo district of Shubra, which is home to many Coptic Christians, voting rates were high. Marianne Hanna, 26, said, "I voted 'no' on the amendments, but I do not care what the result is because what I saw today reassured me about the future of Egypt because it made me feel that there are people who will protect it in any election and who will not allow for religious strife."
She added, "I was scared, but today I am satisfied."