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Dissenters Pushed Aside, Egyptian Voters Approve New Constitution

Posted: January 18, 2014

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The charter increases the power of institutions crucial in the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi. The vote was marked by many irregularities as well as voter intimidation.

A boy looks at Egypt's security forces as they try to disperse supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi in Cairo on Friday.

A boy looks at Egypt's security forces as they try to disperse supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi in Cairo on Friday. Aly Hazzaa

Almost all Egyptians who turned out to vote last week approved a new constitution, Egypt's Supreme Electoral Committee said on Saturday, according to the state-owned newspaper Al Ahram.

The newspaper reports that 38.6 percent of registered voters went to the polls and 98.1 percent of them voted in favor of the new constitution in the first vote since Mohammed Morsi was toppled in a 2013 coup.

NPR's Leila Fadel says this vote comes as no surprise. Reporting from Cairo, she tells our Newscast unit:

"People who campaigned for a no vote were arrested and harassed and most people voicing dissent under this military-backed authority are being arrested or harassed. During the two days of voting observers said some police and army actively encouraged people to vote yes and it was almost impossible to find anyone who would admit to saying no.

"Analysts say the vote was more a referendum on the July 3 military coup and the presidential aspirations of the military chief Gen. Abdel Fattah el Sissi than a vote on the charter. Sissi has hinted that if the people requested it he would run for president. Meanwhile, protests calling for a boycott were dispersed and nearly a dozen people were killed during the two days of voting."

The New York Times reports that the new charter increases the power and immunity of the army, the police and the judiciary, three institutions that were instrumental in the overthrow of Morsi.

The Times adds that the charter does state that freedom of expression is absolute, but "scholars note that it also includes many broad exceptions authorizing punishments for vaguely defined offenses like 'inciting violence' or 'dishonoring individuals.'"

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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