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Egyptian Constitutional Referendum Passes Amid Reports of Voting Irregularities

Over 18 million Egyptians cast their ballots on March 19 in a referendum on a controversial package of constitutional amendments to nine articles from the previous Constitution.

Mary Abdelmassih reported in a story for the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), that according to the Election Commission, 77 percent of the voters (14 million) voted in favor of the referendum, 22.8 voted against. There were reports of election rigging by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), the Salafists and former members of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP).

“This result came as a shock to those who wanted the amendments defeated,” said Coptic activist Wagih Yacoub.

AINA said he added, “The youth movement, figures such as Presidential candidates Amr Moussa, the outgoing Arab League chief and Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, liberals and Copts opposed the referendum, while the army, the NDP and the Islamic movements supported it.”

The amendments changed the rules for the qualifications for the office of the president, the period of the presidency, as well as the office of the vice-president. The rules for the judicial supervision of elections, State of emergency and terrorism were also amended.

AINA reported opposition figures said this would still make the president “another Pharaoh,” and open the way for a quick election by September. That would benefit the MB and NDP, established political parties which can quickly mobilize resources and field candidates.

Manar Mohsen, who was a poll monitor for the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, said Islamic groups claimed that voting yes is a “religious duty.” They were telling voters they should vote yes to keep Article Two of the constitution, which states that Sharia is the principal source of Egyptian law.

“They also told voters to approve the amendments if they wanted to keep Coptic Christians out of government,” AINA reported Mohsen said.

Dr. Naguib Gobraeel, head of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organizations (EUHRO), said the “The situation is a tragedy.”

AINA reported he said his organization received 39 complaints of voting irregularities by mid-morning on referendum day, and called on people to report rigging incidents to him so that he would present it to the office of the Attorney General on Monday.

Gobraeel said that he was personally subjected to such an incident in Shubra district of Cairo, where he went to vote.

AINA reported he said, “After I filled the ballot, the official there asked me to put it in a certain box. I refused and threw it inside the box I chose. As I was about to leave I saw that the official was opening the box and had my balloting ticket in his hand. The team of activists who accompanied me quickly went and caught him. The supervising judge intervened only because the team took photos of that official caught red-handed.”

EUHRO is an approved NGO and had over 200 election monitors at polling stations. EUHRO reported in many polling stations ballots did not have the required official stamp, and illiterate voters were taken advantage of by being directed to check yes when they wanted to vote no. Many stations had a section for Copts and another for Muslims for no obvious reason.

AINA said in areas of heavy Coptic presence, the polling stations opened late or the number of stations was reduced so that not all Copts would be able to vote before closing time. The Copts in Abu Heness, numbering 20,000, had only three voting stations.

In addition, AINA said, a Muslim election judge mocked the Copts by saying, “Your church told you to vote no.”

AINA reported that Hany elGezeiry, of the Million Center NGO, said in some areas of Cairo polling stations were excellent. However, in poor areas, people’s poverty was taken advantage of to influence their votes. The NDP bought votes while the Muslim Brotherhood gave those who voted yes one kilo of fresh meat. He said in the city of Zagazig, 47 miles north-northeast of Cairo, food and money were paid by Islamists if the voters voted yes.

AINA reported activist Sarwat Milad said Copts participated in the Referendum to achieve equality of citizenship, while the Muslim Brotherhood participated to take over power.

He said, “The MB did not start the January 25 revolution, but wants to steal its fruits. They joined forces with the NDP against the people of the Tahrir Revolution.”

AINA said the TV program Inside Egypt Today reported that mosques claimed Christians would like to make Egypt a Christian country, and want the removal of the second article of the constitution.

Bishop Kirollos of Nag Hammadi said ballot boxes from a school in Bahgourah, a town affiliated to the Bishopric of Nag Hammadi, were opened. A staff member of the school discovered many ballots which had been torn. The staff member collected the ballots and brought them to the bishop as proof of rigging of the referendum.

AINA reported the bishop also said that the polling station of the village of Shusha in Abu Tisht had been closed all day yesterday and did not open until six o’clock in the evening, which prevented many of the Copts from voting. He said that mosque speakers were warning people against voting no.

In some areas, AINA said, voters managed to force Imams to remove their religious propaganda for the yes vote. The leftist Tagammu party in Qena filed a report with prosecution accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to influence voters as they entered the polling station in Qos to vote yes, and of inciting Muslims against the Copts by claiming that Copts will vote no because they want to change the second article of the constitution.

AINA said ElYoum7 daily reported that thousands of protesters are presently congregating in Tahrir Square. The protesters are refusing to recognize the results of the referendum, and are expressing anger by holding slogans, casting doubt on the integrity of the referendum.

Some political entities have called for a protest against the constitutional amendments to be staged in Tahrir Square on Friday, March 25.

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