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Exclusive – High Turnout among Christians in Egypt Constitutional Referendum

Exclusive – High Turnout among Christians in Egypt Constitutional Referendum

Tuesday, 23 April, 2019 - 06:15
Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II casting his ballot paper during the vote on a constitutional reform in Cairo. (EPA)
Cairo - Walid Abul Rahman

As she gripped her cane, Marianne insisted on heading to the polling station in eastern Cairo to vote in the country’s constitutional referendum. Even though the ballot box was located on a higher floor, the sexagenarian insisted on climbing up the stairs, with the help of her son, to cast her vote.

“No matter the hardship, I just had to vote. I have taken part in all previous elections. This referendum is very necessary,” she told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The example of this Coptic woman was one of many across Egypt that witnessed a heavy turnout by Christians in the three-day referendum on constitutional amendments.

“Even though we were celebrating Palm Sunday, everyone was determined to vote because this is a national duty,” stressed Marianne.

Indeed, many Christians posted photos of themselves on social media carrying a palm fronds and heading to the polling stations soon after celebrating Palm Sunday at church.

Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria cast his vote Saturday on the first day of the referendum. He had previously urged the people to practice their constitutional right to vote and express their views.

Eastern denomination Christians celebrated Palm Sunday on April 21 by heading to churches, which were heavily guarded by security forces against any potential threat in wake of terror attacks that had targeted these places of worship in recent years. People were prohibited from parking their cars in the vicinity of churches and a security source told Asharq Al-Awsat that only pedestrians could access the surrounding areas.

In April 2017, 45 people were killed in twin bombings that targeted Palm Sunday worshipers at two churches in the northern cities of Alexandria and Tanta. The ISIS group claimed responsibility for the attacks.

In December 2018, President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi celebrated Christmas mass at a cathedral in eastern Cairo in a show of solidarity with the country’s Christian community. He has attended Christmas mass every year since his election in 2014.

Another citizen, Majed Fakhry came along with his family to cast his vote at a station in Mataria in the northern region of Greater Cairo. He told Asharq Al-Awsat that voting on the constitutional amendments “opens new horizons for a better future for Egypt. It ends all lies that had recently emerged over the Copts in Egypt.”

Egypt has rejected claims by American congressmen that the rights of Copts were being violated in the country. Official figures revealed that Christians make up 10 to 15 percent of the population. Pope Tawadros had previously declared that any attempt to “sabotage the strong bond that ties us with Muslims will fail.”

Egyptians started voting over the weekend in a three-day referendum on constitutional changes that could allow Sisi to stay in office until 2030.

If approved, the amendments would extend Sisi’s current term to six years from four and allow him to run again for a third six-year term in 2024. They would also grant the president new powers over the appointment of judicial officials, bolster the role of the military and create an upper parliamentary chamber.

The referendum also proposes other changes to the five-year-old constitution, among them the creation of a second parliamentary chamber and a quota ensuring at least 25 percent of lawmakers are women.

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