Report: Military chief urges Egyptians to vote

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Associated Press

Posted on January 11, 2014 at 12:02 PM

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's military chief urged voters Saturday to cast their ballots in next week's constitutional referendum, saying that a promising future awaits the country with the charter's passage after months of political division and turmoil.

The last time Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi appealed to the public, he drew millions to the street in July to support what he called a fight against "possible terrorism." Now, he's asking for Egypt's more than 52 million voters to support the rewritten constitution that paves the way for presidential and parliamentary elections.

El-Sissi is the preferred presidential candidate for many, with groups already lobbying for him to run. The 59 year old has not said whether he will, but his call appears aimed at garnering a high turnout in a constitutional poll some have described as a vote of confidence in the general himself.

El-Sissi spoke at a military-organized function and the state news agency MENA carried his comments. He said the armed forces and the police will secure voting amid fears that those calling for a boycott of the referendum will disrupt it.

"Egypt's sons are certain of success because right is on our side," he told a gathering of public and religious figures, politicians and military officers.

Egyptians are to vote Tuesday and Wednesday on a heavily amended version of an Islamist-drafted charter enacted under toppled Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

The 2012 charter was one of the main reasons fueling opposition to Morsi, prompting massive protests against him. The military, under el-Sissi's command, then removed Morsi from office.

A large turnout and a strong "yes" vote would give legitimacy and a boost to the political plan endorsed by el-Sissi and largely supported by secular political groups calling for subsequent presidential and parliamentary elections.

Those close to el-Sissi himself say he's looking at the constitutional turnout as a sign of his popularity.

But the transition plan is opposed by Morsi supporters and a number of Islamist groups that rose to political prominence following the 2011 ouster of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

A coalition led by the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which Morsi hails, is calling for a boycott of the vote. It also has promised to keep up its near-daily protests to contest Morsi's ouster and the military-backed interim government. That's led to fears that protests could turn violent and keep people from taking part in the referendum.

The Brotherhood has been declared a terrorist organization by the government, intensifying the crackdown against it. The group dismissed the charges as politically motivated, denying it uses violence. Many of the group's leaders, including Morsi, are on trial facing charges related to violent attacks. Hundreds were killed when security forces cleared two pro-Morsi sit-in camps in August and thousands of its members and leaders have been arrested. Militants attacks largely confined to the restive Sinai Peninsula have surged following Morsi's ouster, moving closer to the capital.

In his speech Saturday, el-Sissi blasted the Brotherhood, saying they will be held accountable before God for the destruction and killings he holds them responsible for, as well as distorting of the image of Islam.

"The problem with these people is that they don't know that Islam of their group can't work in managing a state," el-Sissi said. He said that he had warned Islamist groups before that they will not succeed in running Egypt.

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