Egypt approves reforms in historic referendum

Sun Mar 20, 2011 7:21pm GMT

By Yasmine Saleh

CAIRO (Reuters) - A big majority of Egyptians approved amendments to the constitution in a referendum, results showed, opening the door to early elections seen as favouring Islamists and figures affiliated with the old ruling party.

Decades of oppression under Hosni Mubarak crushed Egypt's political life and secular groups that mobilised to oust him say longer is needed before elections that may now come as early as September.

One of the changes prevents a president serving more than eight years, making Egypt one of few Arab republics to set such a restriction. Mubarak, ousted by a popular uprising on February 11, ruled for three decades before handing power to the military.

Saturday's vote was the first in living memory whose outcome was not a foregone conclusion and 77 percent voted 'yes'.

"Egyptians came forward to have their say in the future of the country," said Mohammed Ahmed Attiyah, the head of the judicial oversight committee, announcing a 41 percent turnout.

Turnout was always very low for elections which were routinely rigged under Mubarak.

The amendments were drawn up by a judicial panel appointed by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The military says it wants to relinquish authority to an elected government as quickly as possible.

The referendum divided Egyptians between those who said the reforms would suffice for now and others who said the constitution needed a complete rewrite.   Continued...

<p>Egyptians queue to cast their vote during a national referendum at a school, in Cairo March 19, 2011. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih</p>
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