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1st post-Mubarak vote to set pace of Egypt’s shift

Clears path for new president, Parliament

Khayrat el-Shater, an opposition leader, endorsed the amendments, saying they could help revive the economy. Khayrat el-Shater, an opposition leader, endorsed the amendments, saying they could help revive the economy.
By Mariam Fam
Bloomberg News / March 18, 2011

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CAIRO — Egypt’s first vote since the fall of Hosni Mubarak will help determine how fast the country returns to civilian rule, as campaigners for a rapid handover to stabilize the economy compete with those who say democracy should be entrenched first.

A referendum tomorrow on constitutional changes, drafted by a committee appointed by army leaders who have been running the country since Mubarak’s resignation last month, asks Egyptians to approve measures including term limits for presidents and fuller judicial oversight of voting. They are aimed at clearing the way for the election of a new Parliament and president, possibly within the next six months.

Backers of the amendments such as the Muslim Brotherhood, banned under Mubarak, say they will help end turmoil that is hurting the economy. Egypt’s stock market has been shut for nearly seven weeks, tourists have stayed away, and factory output has been hit by strikes.

Those against the amendments instead advocate delaying elections and rewriting the constitution from scratch. They say rushing the transition will weaken democracy without bringing stability and will benefit the former ruling party and established forces such as the Brotherhood at the expense of activists who led the popular uprising.

“It’s a democratic battle despite time being so tight,’’ said Amr Hamzawy, a political science professor at Cairo University and a former member of the group dubbed the Committee of Wise Men, which meditated between the regime and protesters. “It’s unclear what the outcome of the referendum will be.’’

Stocks have not traded since Jan. 27, when the revolt against Mubarak began to gather pace, and authorities have dropped several attempts to reopen the bourse. Finance Minister Samir Radwan has forecast economic growth of 4 percent this fiscal year, down from a pre-crisis estimate of 6 percent.

The Muslim Brotherhood endorsed the amendments because they will free the army for duties like guarding national security, and clear the way for reviving the economy, said Khayrat el-Shater, a leading member.

“We want the transitional rule to end quickly so that we can project an image of stability and encourage foreign and local investments to help the economic development that we desperately need,’’ he told reporters in Cairo.

The proposed amendments would limit presidents to two four-year terms, ease restrictions on who can run for the post, and let judges scrutinize the balloting when elections are held.

Those elections may produce a Parliament “dominated by the National Democratic Party and the Muslim Brotherhood’’ if the amendments are approved, said Ziad Elelaimy, a member of the Alliance of the Youths’ Revolution, a coalition of protesting groups campaigning for a ‘no’ vote.

“They are able to organize themselves and prepare for quick elections,’’ he said. “The groups behind the revolution haven’t yet organized themselves.’’ The National Democratic Party was Mubarak’s ruling party.

Shater said that the Brotherhood agreed on the idea of forming an election alliance with other opposition groups, including some such as the Wafd and Tagammu parties that have rejected the proposed amendments. That will “assure the people that the Brotherhood will not seek a majority in Parliament,’’ he said.

About 45 million Egyptians, more than half of the country’s population, are eligible to vote, and must accept or reject the amendments as a single package.

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