Egyptian constitution passed

Egyptian voters have approved the contentious Islamist-drafted constitution, which was signed into effect on 25 December by President Mohammed Mursi, shortly after the official results were announced by the electoral commission.

The charter, which was opposed by Christians, liberals and leftists, was adopted after almost 64 per cent voted in its favour over two voting sessions on 15 and 22 December. The referendum, which was marred by opposition claims of numerous voting irregularities, saw a low turnout, with the participation of less than 33 per cent of Egypt's nearly 52 million voters.

The passing of the referendum has polarised Egyptian society, increased the nation’s economic instability and resulted in a number of high-level resignations from Mursi’s administration, including the vice president Mahmoud Mekki and communications minister Hany Mahmoud.

The opposition is concerned that the constitution will have a negative impact on minority religions and women, and could lead to a crackdown on personal freedoms and independent media which has been critical of the direction taken by the Mursi administration. The referendum result has also triggered mass protests by opposition groups over fears that it could pave the way for the introduction of Islamic law in Egypt.

The claims have been denied by Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood which insists the document gives adequate protection to minorities while providing stability, restoring investor confidence and renewing the country’s flagging tourism industry.

Mursi is expected to call for a new parliamentary election of parliament's lawmaking lower house within two months, with the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies expected to dominate. Until then, the overwhelmingly Islamist upper house, the Shura Council, holds legislative power.

Meanwhile, following the government’s new restrictions on foreign currency, there has been a run on the dollar in Egypt, with reports of some banks in Cairo running out of cash dollars. The decree issued by Mursi on 23 December prevents people leaving or entering Egypt with more than $10,000 cash in dollars or its equivalent in other currencies.

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