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Impoverished Provinces Pass Egypt’s Constitution

Egypt’s poor provinces prove decisive in passing Egypt’s constitution in an election marked by irregularities and low turnout, reports Mohannad Sabry from Cairo.
An official counts ballots after polls closed during the final stage of a referendum on Egypt's new constitution in Bani Sweif, about 115 km (71 miles) south of Cairo December 22, 2012. Early indications suggested Egyptians approved an Islamist-drafted constitution in Saturday's second-round referendum despite opposition criticism of the measure as divisive. REUTERS/Stringer  (EGYPT  - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)

CAIRO — Egypt’s Higher Elections Commission announced Tuesday that Egypt’s constitution has passed by 63.8% of the vote, with turnout that reached only 32.9% of the country’s 51 million registered voters.

Out of the 16,755,012 valid ballots that were casted in nationwide and overseas polling stations throughout the two phases of the constitutional referendum, 10,693,911 voters endorsed the constitution while 6,061,101 voted against it.

The elections commission, composed of some of Egypt’s higher judges, confirmed at its Tuesday news conference at the State Information Service Center in Eastern Cairo that it had “looked thoroughly into all and every violation claim throughout the referendum.”

Judge Samir Abul Maati, head of the commission, who announced the results of the referendum, confirmed that “the ballot boxes suspected of being inaccurately administrated or were marred by serious irregularities were all discarded.”

The low turnout was blamed on President Mohammed Morsi’s decree, which was passed down on Dec. 11 or four days before the referendum, banning voters from casting their ballots except in their home constituencies; and, on nationwide boycotts of the referendum by judges in protest of Morsi’s Nov. 22 decree that granted him broad, unchecked powers, which left polling stations with few supervising judges and thousands of voters, and limiting the voting to only one day which kept millions of voters across the country from casting their ballots.

According to the results, the post-revolution constitution which overwrites the 1971 constitution, under which Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship operated for 30 years, garnered fewer votes than the 13 million that made Mohammed Morsi the first elected president of Egypt.

The breakdown of "Yes Vote," which has been fiercely advocated for weeks by a front of Islamist powers led by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, over Egypt’s governorates was quite similar to maps of illiteracy and poverty levels published by state-owned research institutes.

The controversial draft constitution, which was put to referendum by Morsi despite massive protests and violent clashes that erupted after his Nov. 22 decree, garnered the greater portion of its endorsement votes in the governorates of Upper Egypt that occupied top ranks of illiteracy and poverty.

According to statistics published in September 2012 by the state-owned Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, or CAPMAS, Menya governorate, where 83.2% of its local turnout or around 763,000 voters endorsed the constitution, is the country’s top illiterate province with 38.2% illiteracy. Sohag, where 78.8% or around 468,000 voted yes, came second on the illiteracy list with 36.4% unable to read or write. In Beni Suef, at 35.5% the third-most  illiterate governorate, the yes vote reached 85% or around 466,000 votes. In Fayoum, ranking forth with 34.6% illiteracy rate, 89.9% or around 485,000 votes endorsed the constitution. Assuit, which ranks fifth with 32.7% illiteracy and witnessed a deadly train crash on Nov. 17 that killed 51 children, endorsed the constitution by 76.5% or around 450,000 votes. Qena, sixth among the most illiterate provinces with 31.5%, endorsed the constitution by 84.5%, or around 306,000 votes.

Other provinces weren’t on the most recent maps of Egypt’s nationwide illiteracy and also had an overwhelming majority of ‘Yes Votes,’ but the number of registered voters and turnout was significantly lower than the numbers scored in illiterate provinces.

Marsa Matrouh, Egypt’s western governorate bordering Libya and a stronghold of the country’s conservative Salafists, was the top among provinces that endorsed the constitution with 91.8% of its turnout, the shockingly overwhelming percentage made up only 68,119 voters. El-Wadi El-Gedid, another western province ranking third among endorsers, had 87.2% approval among a total of only 38,551 voters.

As for poverty statistics, another study of multi-dimensional poverty published by CAPMAS in December 2012 showed that several of Egypt’s most impoverished governorates were among the top endorsers of the constitution.

According to the study, Upper Egypt’s Beni Suef ranked first on the poverty list with 20.7% impoverished citizens and endorsed the constitution with 85% of its registered votes; coastal Ismailia came second on the poverty list with 18.2% and endorsed the constitution with 70%, Assuit was third with a 17.3% poverty rate while its endorsement reached 76.5%; and Menya, fourth-most impoverished governate with 15.3% of its citizens impoverished, polled an 83.2% yes vote.

Several independent human rights organizations and advocacy groups that took part in monitoring the referendum accused the Islamist current of manipulating votes by using religious propaganda in illiterate and impoverished provinces. Dozens of complaints were filed during the voting accusing members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and other Islamist powers of directing voters in and around polling stations.

The elections commission indicated that “it is only responsible for the polling stations and a surrounding perimeter of 200 meters.”

Egypt’s secular forces continue to call for laws that criminalize religious propaganda during elections.

Meanwhile, the country’s infuriated opposition didn’t wait for the official results to reconfirm its total refusal of the constitution.

The newly formed National Salvation Front, a coalition of opposition parties, tagged the voting process as “illegitimate” and pledged “to use all peaceful measures to bring down the constitution that doesn’t represent national consensus.”

The opposition forces, which only came to unity by Morsi’s latest decisions that triggered the worst political crisis Egypt has lived since the January 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s iron-fisted regime, seemed to not yet have a precise plan for trashing the Islamist-backed constitution.

Despite not reaching a decision to either boycott or participate in the looming parliament elections, the NSF announced “forming a parliamentary elections front and aiming for a majority of the coming parliament through running on one unified opposition list of candidates.”

 Mohannad Sabry is an Egyptian journalist based in Cairo. He has written for McClatchy Newspapers and The Washington Times, served as managing editor of Global Post's reporting fellowship "Covering the Revolution" in Cairo as well as a contributor to its special reports "Tahrir Square" and "Egypt: the military, the people." Sabry was nominated to the 2011 Livingston Award for International Reporting. Born in Saudi Arabia and raised around the world, Sabry returned to Cairo in 2001 and has been covering Egypt since 2005. Follow him on twitter @mmsabry.