Egyptians were expected to have voted in favor of a constitutional rewrite when referendum polls closed on Wednesday in a show of support for the army and its chief, General Abdul Fatah Sisi.
Protests against the referendum by supporters of the deposed president Mohamed Morsi, who was removed from power by Sisi in July, left nine dead on Tuesday. Officials said police had arrested dozens more demonstrators.
The new constitution, if approved, replaces the one Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood put in place in 2012. It more explicitly protects the rights of Egypt’s Christian minority and women and outlaws parties that are founded on a “sectarian” basis. It also abolishes the upper house of parliament and consolidates the army’s position. Civilians can still be trialled in military tribunals, if only for offenses involving the military, and army chiefs will have a veto over the appointment of the defense minister for the next two presidential terms.
Sisi, the incumbent armed forces chief and defense minister, is expected to announce a presidential candidacy soon after the Constitution is approved.
In the clearest sign yet that he would consider such a candidacy, the general said this weekend, “If I run, then it must be at the request of the people and with a mandate from my army.”
Supporters have already trumped up Sisi as the man who can restore stability to Egypt three years after the country deposed its longtime president Hosni Mubarak, himself a former air force commander.
Since the army ousted Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, who came to power through democratic elections in the wake of Mubarak’s resignation, nearby Arab countries have pledged billions of dollars in financial support to keep Egypt’s struggling economy afloat.
Foreign investment and tourism dwindled after the start of the “Arab Spring” uprising in early 2011. The country’s trade deficit exploded while food and fuel supplies ran short. Morsi’s government made the crisis worse when it imposed capital and price controls that contributed to high inflation, forcing Egyptians to turn to the black market for affordable goods.
In October of last year, the United States, Egypt’s premier Western ally, belatedly suspended some of its own military aid in protest to the army’s coup but counterterrorism assistance and the training program of Egyptian officers in America were kept in place.