CAIRO -- Unofficial results Thursday indicated that Egypt’s new constitution was approved by about 98% of voters, a lopsided margin reminiscent of elections that were held prior to the uprising against Hosni Mubarak three years ago.
The military-backed interim government had campaigned vigorously for approval of the rewritten charter, while the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement of deposed president Mohamed Morsi, had called for a boycott of the two-day vote.
[Updated 6:17 a.m. PST, Jan. 16: State media, citing unofficial tallies released by 26 of Egypt’s 27 governorates, reported a turnout of about 36%, which would surpass the roughly one-third of eligible voters who cast ballots in the previous constitutional referendum, held during Morsi’s tenure.
The turnout was only about 3 percentage points larger than the Morsi-era vote, despite official hopes for a more decisive margin. The unofficial count did not yet include the governorate of North Sinai, where army troops and police have been battling an Islamist insurgency.]
With the interim government billing the constitutional vote as a popular mandate on its six months of rule, staying away from the polls was the only means available to most Egyptians for expressing opposition.
Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi, the military chief who is essentially running the country, said before the balloting that he would take a strong affirmative vote as a sign of the people’s will that he run for president.
Political dissent is perilous in Egypt these days. A tough law that took effect two months ago bans street protests not approved in advance by Egyptian authorities. Prior to this week’s two-day referendum, police arrested at least seven people for putting up posters urging a "no" vote on the constitution.
Pro-Muslim Brotherhood media outlets have long since been shut down, and nearly three weeks ago, three journalists for the news channel Al Jazeera English were jailed, accused of links to the Brotherhood, among other offenses. One of the three is Australian and another Egyptian-Canadian.
On Wednesday, a free-lance cameraman working for the Associated Press was detained after AP images appeared on Al Jazeera’s Egyptian affiliate, which broadcasts from Qatar, the news agency reported.
At polling places Tuesday and Wednesday, voters expressed near-unanimous support for the constitution and for Sisi, sometimes approaching Western journalists to vent anger over perceived U.S. support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi -- a narrative advanced in Egyptian state media in the months after his ouster.
“We don’t care what Obama wants!” one man shouted. “We want Sisi!”
Special correspondent Amro Hassan contributed to this report.