CAIRO — Egyptians went to the polls Wednesday for a second and final day of balloting on a new constitution, with authorities claiming initial indications of a strong turnout they held up as proof voters had rejected a boycott call by the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Egyptians are coming out in great numbers to enthusiastically participate in this historic process,” the president’s office said in a statement as the balloting continued on Wednesday. A spokesman for the Cabinet said he believed the turnout was the highest of any vote held in the last three years since the uprising that toppled autocratic President Hosni Mubarak.
It was unclear when official referendum results, as well as turnout figures, would be available, although some governorates have begun releasing their own unofficial tallies.
The military-backed interim government has made clear it regards turnout as a crucial measurement of public support for its sustained six-month crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood. And Gen. Abdel-Fattah Sisi, the country’s de facto leader, has signaled he would take a large turnout and a wide margin of approval for the new constitution as signs that people want him to run for president.
A resounding yes vote on the charter would sweep away a major legacy of the reign of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, toppled in a coup in July led by Sisi. During Morsi’s tenure, about two-thirds of voters cast ballots in favor of a constitution containing some overtly Islamist provisions. But only about one-third of eligible voters came out.
That constitution was invalidated when Morsi was deposed after massive protests against his rule. The new constitution limits the scope of Islamic law and promotes some personal freedoms, along with gender equality, but also gives the military control over its own budget and the appointment of the defense minister, as well as other expanded powers.
Violence appeared to taper off on the second day of voting, with the Health Ministry reporting no deaths by midafternoon Wednesday. Eleven fatalities were reported Tuesday, the first day of balloting -- some of them attributed to clashes between Morsi supporters and security forces and some to fighting between foes and supporters of the former leader.
In the wake of the government’s designation of the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, and a concerted campaign in state media to link the movement to deadly attacks on security forces and other targets, most voters interviewed said they thought strong-arm tactics by the government were justified to quell the terror threat. Thousands of Brotherhood supporters have been jailed or killed since the coup, and Morsi is on trial for a variety of capital offenses.
“This is the only way forward,” said Nadia Riyad, a middle-aged bureaucrat waiting in line at a Cairo polling station, who said she was voting in favor of the constitution.
And of Sisi, she said: “At the moment, we can’t find anyone else to trust.”