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News Analysis: Referendum results steer Egypt's future roadmap

by Mahmoud Fouly

CAIRO, Jan. 16 (Xinhua) -- The initial results of the referendum on Egypt's new constitution showed that over 90 percent of voters said "yes" for the military-backed charter that is meant to replace the one drafted and approved in late 2012 under ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood group.

The overwhelming approval of the new constitution may urge the country's army chief and Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi to run for president as "a popular demand," said political experts.

Since Morsi's removal, Islamists have been holding anti- government protests, denouncing Morsi's ouster as "a military coup " and the constitutional referendum as "illegitimate."

"The sweeping 'yes' vote would surely be a greater motive for General Sisi to run for president," said Mohamed Kamal, a political science professor at Cairo University.

The professor told Xinhua that Sisi might have been reluctant or uncertain about the amount of popular support for the post- Morsi future roadmap, "but now the picture has become clear."

"It is not only about the people's approval of the articles of the new constitution but it also reflects their support for Sisi and the military-outlined future roadmap," he explained.

Voters during the referendum raised flags of Egypt, posters of Sisi and played national pro-military songs via loud speakers.

Whether or not Sisi is running for president remained a pressing question among Egyptians, as the military chief neither confirmed nor denied the intention until Jan. 11, a few days before the referendum, when he made the clearest statement on the issue.

Sisi said his candidacy for presidency must be based on "a popular demand and a mandate from the army." "I cannot turn my back on Egypt."

Ayman al-Sayyid Abdel-Wahhab, a political expert at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, sees that the popular nod for Egypt's new constitution as "a positive indication for the possibility of Sisi to compete in the upcoming presidential race."

The massive approval of the constitution minimizes the idea of polarization because the military institution is part of the Egyptian state that cannot be a matter of polarization, the expert told Xinhua.

Abdel-Wahhab refuted claims that the new constitution gives the army unprecedented authorities.

"As for the article that allows military trials for civilians, it is restricted to certain cases and it is much better than its equivalent in the 2012 constitution approved by ousted Morsi," he explained.

He added that although the president cannot appoint a defense minister, according to the new constitution, unless he is recommended by the Armed Forces Supreme Council, "the president still has the authority to sack the defense minister."

For his part, Ahmed Baan, a researcher at Nile Center for Strategic Studies, said the nature of current circumstances " created a link between voting for the constitution and supporting Sisi as a presidential candidate."

"The constitutional referendum is an important poll for the popular legitimacy and a birth certificate of a constitutional ground for a new political system," Baan told Xinhua, noting that a lot of Egyptians believe in Sisi as "a savior" for the turmoil- stricken country.

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