Well, This Promises To End Nicely for Egypt

I’m shocked … Shocked, I tell ya.

CAIRO — Egyptian voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum on constitutional changes on Sunday that will usher in rapid elections, with the results underscoring the strength of established political organizations, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, and the weakness of emerging liberal groups.

More than 14.1 million voters, or 77.2 percent, approved the constitutional amendments; 4 million, or 22.8 percent, voted against them. The turnout of 41 percent among the 45 million eligible voters broke all records for recent elections, according to the Egyptian government.

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The military council has been somewhat vague about the next steps. But Maj. Gen. Mamdouh Shaheen told the newspaper Al Shorouk in an interview published Sunday that the generals would issue a constitutional declaration to cover the changes and then set dates for the vote once the results were announced.

The Muslim Brotherhood and remnant elements of the National Democratic Party, which dominated Egyptian politics for decades, were the main supporters of the referendum. They argued that the election timetable would ensure a swift return to civilian rule.

Members of the liberal wing of Egyptian politics mostly opposed the measure, saying that they lacked time to form effective political organizations. They said early elections would benefit the Brotherhood and the old governing party, which they warned would seek to write a constitution that centralizes power, much like the old one.

Voters were asked to either accept or reject eight constitutional amendments as a whole — all of them designed to establish the foundations for coming elections. Most addressed some of the worst excesses of previous years — limiting the president to two four-year terms, for example, to avoid another president staying in office as long as Mr. Mubarak. The amendments were announced Feb. 25 after virtually no public discussion by an 11-member committee of experts chosen by the military.

“It is very, very disappointing,” said Hani Shukrallah, who is active in a new liberal political party and is the editor of Ahram Online, a news Web site.

He and many other opponents of the referendum said religious organizations had spread false rumors, suggesting that voting against the referendum would threaten Article 2 of the Constitution, which cites Islamic law as the main basis for Egyptian law.

“I saw one sign that said, ‘If you vote no you are a follower of America and Baradei, and if you vote yes you are a follower of God,’ ” he said. “The idea is that Muslims will vote yes and Copts and atheists will vote no.”

Mohamed ElBaradei, a former top United Nations nuclear official and a Nobel Prize winner planning to run for president, opposed the amendments, as did Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, another potential presidential candidate. […]

Update: God help the Copts.

Related: Meanwhile in Egypt: The Stoning of Mohamed ElBaradei