Egyptian Constitutional Referendum Passes Amid Reports of Voting Irregularities
By Mary Abdelmassih
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(AINA) -- 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. 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 the Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP).

"This result came as a shock to those who wanted the amendments defeated," said Coptic activist Wagih Yacoub. "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. But opposition figures said this would still make the president "another Pharaoh," and open the way for a quick election by September, which would benefit the MB and NDP, who are 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 that Islamic groups claimed that voting yes is a "religious duty" and 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," Mohsen said.

Dr. Naguib Gobraeel, head of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organizations, said the "The situation is a tragedy." 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. This video appears to show a polling station official marking empty ballots with "yes."

Dr. Gobraeel said that he himself was subjected to such an incident in Shubra district of Cairo, where he went to cast his vote. "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 reports in many polling stations ballots did not have the required official stamp; illiterate voters were taken advantage of by being directed to cross yes when they wanted to vote no. Many stations had a section for Copts and another for Muslims for no obvious reason. 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. Also a Muslim election judge mocked the Copts by saying "Your church told you to vote no."

Mr. 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 Islamist if they voters voted yes.

Activist Sarwat Milad said Copts participated in the Referendum to achieve equality of citizenship while the Muslim Brotherhood participated to take over Power. "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."

The TV program Inside Egypt Today reported that mosques claimed that Christians want to make Egypt a Christian country and want the removal of the 2nd Article.of the Constitution.

Bishop Kirollos of Nag Hammadi said ballot boxes in a school in Bahgourah, a town affiliated to the Bishopric of Nag Hammadi, were opened. A staff member of the school discovered many no ballots which had been torn. The staff member collected the ballots and brought them to the Bishop as proof of rigging of the referendum.

The Bishop also said that 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 not to vote no.

In some areas voters managed to force Imams to remove their religious propaganda for the yes vote (video). 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.

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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