Egypt’s draft charter approved in vote

Updated 24 December 2012
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Egypt’s draft charter approved in vote

CAIRO: A constitution drafted by an Islamist-dominated assembly was approved by a majority of Egyptians in a referendum, rival camps said yesterday, after a vote the opposition said drove a wedge through the Arab world’s most populous nation.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which propelled President Muhammad Mursi to power in a June election, said an unofficial tally showed 64 percent of voters backed the charter after two rounds of voting that ended with a final ballot on Saturday.
An opposition official also told Reuters their unofficial count showed the result was a “yes” vote.
The referendum committee may not declare official results for the two rounds until Monday, after hearing appeals. If the outcome is confirmed, a parliamentary election will follow in about two months.
Mursi’s backers say the constitution is vital for the transition to democracy, nearly two years after the overthrow of autocrat Hosni Mubarak. It will provide the stability needed to help a fragile economy, they say. The constitution was “a historic opportunity to unite all national powers on the basis of mutual respect and honest dialogue for the sake of stabilising the nation,” the Brotherhood said in a statement.
But the opposition accuses Mursi of pushing through a text that favors Islamists and ignores the rights of Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, as well as women. They say it is a recipe for further unrest.
“According to our calculations, the final result of the second round is 71 percent voting ‘yes’ and the overall result (of the two rounds) is 63.8 percent,” a Brotherhood official, who was in an operations room monitoring the vote, told Reuters.
His figures were confirmed by a statement issued shortly afterwards by the group and broadcast on its television channel. The opposition said voting in both rounds was marred by abuses. However, an official said the overall vote favored the charter, with nearly 70 percent in favor in the second round, in line with the Islamists’ estimate.
“They are ruling the country, running the vote and influencing the people, so what else could we expect,” a senior official from the main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, told Reuters. The vote was split over two days as many judges had refused to supervise the ballot, making a single day of voting impossible.
“I’m voting ‘no’ because Egypt can’t be ruled by one faction,” said Karim Nahas, 35, a stockbroker, in Giza, greater Cairo.
At another polling station, some voters said they were more interested in ending Egypt’s long period of political instability than in the Islamist aspects of the charter.
“We have to extend our hands to Mursi to help fix the country,” said Hisham Kamal, an accountant.
During the build-up to the vote there were deadly protests, sparked by Mursi’s decision to award himself extra powers in a Nov. 22 decree and then to fast-track the constitutional vote.
Hours before polls closed, Vice President Mahmoud Mekky announced his resignation. He said he wanted to quit last month but stayed on to help Mursi tackle the crisis that blew up when the Islamist leader assumed wide powers.
Mekky, a prominent judge who said he was uncomfortable in politics, disclosed earlier he had not been informed of Mursi’s power grab.



The timing of his resignation appeared linked to the lack of a vice-presidential post under the draft constitution.
The new basic law sets a limit of two four-year presidential terms. It says the principles of sharia, Islamic law, remain the main source of legislation but adds an article to explain this. It also says Islamic authorities will be consulted on sharia — a source of concern to Christians and others.
TURNOUT
Rights groups reported what they said were illegalities in voting procedures. They said some polling stations opened late, that Islamists illegally campaigned at some polling places, and complained of irregularities in voter registration.
But the committee overseeing the two-stage vote said its investigations showed no major irregularities in voting on Dec. 15, which covered about half of Egypt’s 51 million voters. About 25 million were eligible to vote in the second round.
The Brotherhood said turnout was about a third of voters.
The opposition says the constitution will stir up more trouble on the streets since it has not received sufficiently broad backing for a document that should be agreed by consensus, and raised questions about the fairness of the vote.
In the first round, the district covering most of Cairo voted “no,” which opponents said showed the depth of division.
“I see more unrest,” said Ahmed Said, head of the liberal Free Egyptians Party and a member of the National Salvation Front, an opposition coalition formed after Mursi expanded his powers on Nov. 22 and then pushed the constitution to a vote.
He cited “serious violations” on the first day of voting, and said anger against Mursi was growing. “People are not going to accept the way they are dealing with the situation.”
At least eight people were killed in protests outside the presidential palace in Cairo this month. Islamists and rivals clashed in Alexandria, the second-biggest city, on the eves of both voting days.
Late on Saturday, Mursi announced the names of 90 new members he had appointed to the upper house of parliament, state media reported, and a presidential official said the list was mainly liberals and other non-Islamists.
But a spokesman for the National Salvation Front, which groups liberals, socialists and other opposition parties and politicians, said the Front’s members had refused to take part in the appointments to the chamber.
Legislative powers, now held by Mursi because the lower house of parliament was dissolved earlier this year, will pass to the upper house under the new constitution.
Two-thirds of the 270-member upper house was elected in a vote this year, with one third appointed by the president. Mursi, elected in June, had not named them until now. Mursi’s Islamist party and its allies dominate the assembly.


First Russia air strikes hit south Syria as assault looms

Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone. (AP)
Updated 59 min 15 sec ago
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First Russia air strikes hit south Syria as assault looms

  • Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there
  • Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the cease-fire was agreed in southern Syria last year

BEIRUT: Russia bombed rebel-held parts of southern Syria late Saturday for the first time since brokering a cease-fire there nearly a year ago, a monitor group said, as allied regime troops prepare a ground assault.
Southern Syria is a strategic prize for local and global players involved in the country’s convoluted seven-year war.
After securing the capital Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad appears keen to recapture the southern provinces of Daraa and Sweida, still mostly held by rebels.
He has sent military reinforcements there for weeks, dropped flyers demanding rebels surrender, and escalated bombardment in recent days.
Late Saturday night, his Russian allies bombed rebel-held towns in Daraa for the first time since the summer of 2017, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Intense Russian air strikes are hitting towns in Daraa’s eastern countryside for the first time since the cease-fire was agreed in southern Syria last year,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
The Observatory said the warplanes used Saturday — based on type, location, munitions and flight patterns — had come from the Russian-operated Hmeimim base in coastal Syria.
The Britain-based monitor said at least 25 Russian strikes hit the rebel zones but did not have any casualty figures.

Russia, the United States, and Jordan agreed in July of last year on a de-escalation zone in rebel-controlled parts of southern Syria that would tamp down hostilities there.
Since then, Moscow’s warplanes — active in Syria since 2015 — had refrained from bombing rebel positions in the south.
But violence has been ratcheting up this week as Syrian government forces look to retake the south militarily.
Forces loyal to Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone on Tuesday.
At least 19 civilians in rebel-held zones have died since then, according to the Observatory.
Several civilians have also been killed in opposition fire on government zones, with state news agency SANA reporting Saturday that two civilians were killed in Daraa city in rebel shelling.
Some 12,000 people have been displaced from Daraa province in recent days, the Observatory said, with many seeking refuge in poorly-equipped displacement camps further west.
The United Nations has warned that growing violence is putting the lives of 750,000 people in rebel parts of the south in danger.
On Saturday, regime forces took two villages in Daraa province, their first ground gains after days of bombardment, the Observatory said.

“The Russian strikes started around 10:30pm local time (1930 GMT) and stopped after midnight,” said Ibrahim Mohammad, a media activist in the battered rebel town of Busr Al-Harir in Daraa.
He said he and other residents had taken to their basements and bomb shelters as soon as they heard the planes, describing a steady thud of bombardment for nearly two hours.
In an effort to avoid a deadly offensive, international powers are holding talks aimed at reaching a negotiated settlement for Syria’s south.
“All sides should seize the opportunity to negotiate a deal for the conditional return of the Syrian state to the south west and avert a military conclusion that, for all sides and the local population, would be a worse outcome,” wrote the International Crisis Group think tank last week.
“The US, Russia and Jordan, which brokered a south-western cease-fire in 2017, should urgently extend that truce in preparation for a broader settlement,” the report added.
Earlier this month, Assad said contacts were ongoing between Russia, the United States and Israel over the southern front.
“We are giving the political talks a chance, but if they fail, there will be no choice but liberation by force,” he said.
The regime has retaken large parts of Syria from the opposition since Russia intervened militarily on its side in 2015.