In Egypt, 'Yes' Votes Spell Easier Path For Military Rule

Although official results have not yet been finalized, it is clear that Egyptians voted overwhelmingly in favor of the new constitution in this week's referendum. Preliminary figures show that slightly more voters cast their ballot than in last year's referendum. According to many analysts, the results of the vote make it easier for military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to declare himself a candidate in the upcoming presidential election.

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Nearly 98 percent of those who voted in Egypt this week said yes to a new constitution. That's according to results published in Egypt's state media. Many Egyptians boycotted the referendum. Analysts say the vote will be used by Egypt's authorities to legitimize the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. And as NPR's Leila Fadel reports, the government may also point to the result in justifying the intense crackdown that followed the coup.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: The results, analysts say, is what the military has been looking for, a resounding yes and turnout that reportedly surpassed that of the 2012 referendum held under the Muslim Brotherhood. The government sees it as a public endorsement of the new order following the ouster of the Brotherhood, which lost much popular support during the year it was in power.

But Heba Morayef, the Egypt director for Human Rights Watch, says the broadening crackdown on dissent in the run-up to the referendum was, to put it mildly, alarming.

HEBA MORAYEF: One would've thought that this would act as a check on the kinds of abuses that were the hallmark of Mubarak's police state.

FADEL: On the contrary, she says, prior to the balloting people campaigning for a no vote were thrown in jail. Liberal and youth activists were also thrown in jail, as were three Al Jazeera English journalists, accused of being members of a terrorist organization.

As polls closed, high-profile liberal and secular Egyptian politicians who had been critical of the military were slapped with travel bans. International observers said there are not concerns about rampant irregularities in the voting process, but they have other complaints. Eric Bjornlund is the head of Democracy International, the largest international observation mission in Egypt.

ERIC BJORNLUND: We're concerned about the closing of political space.

FADEL: The two voting days were festive, with the government encouraging adulation of military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who many believe will make a run for the presidency. With the help of private and state-run media outlets, a yes vote to the constitution became synonymous with nationalism and support against terrorism.

The Brotherhood was officially designated a terrorist group in Egypt in December, and its supporters boycotted the vote as illegitimate. Mona el-Ghobashy is an Egypt expert at Barnard College. She says, in the eyes of the military, it now has constitutional legitimacy.

MONA EL-GHOBASHY: It has been seeking some way in which to convince both the domestic population but also crucially the international public that this is a program that is endorsed by the majority of Egyptians.

FADEL: Ghobashy says the cult-like love of Sisi was carefully engineered from the moment Morsi was ousted to garner public support for a crackdown on all dissent.

EL-GHOBASHY: A military coup doesn't distinguish between secularists and religious activists. A military coup means that the military has dominance over the national political space.

FADEL: For now, she says, the military is unaccountable. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.

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