CAIRO: Egyptians overwhelmingly approved a new constitution by referendum, state media reported on Thursday, a widely expected outcome that nudges army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ever closer to a bid for the presidency.
The vote advances a transition plan the military-backed government unveiled after deposing Islamist president Mohamed Mursi last July following mass anti-government unrest.
The constitution won wide support among the many Egyptians who favored Mursi's removal. The Muslim Brotherhood had called for a boycott, saying the vote was part of a coup that deposed an elected leader and revived a brutal police state.
But the vote was also a sign of widespread yearning for a return to stability after almost three years of violent disorder that has crippled the economy, impoverishing many.
The next step is expected to be a presidential election for which Sisi – wildly popular among his supporters – appears the only serious candidate. He has yet to declare he will run.
Around 90 percent of the people who voted approved the constitution, state-run media reported. Al-Ahram, the state's flagship newspaper, said the constitution was approved by an "unprecedented majority", citing early results.
The authorities, who have billed the transition plan as a path to democracy, have also jailed leading Islamists and, in recent weeks, secular-minded activists, including prominent figures in the 2011 uprising against President Hosni Mubarak.
Mursi and other top Brotherhood politicians are standing trial on charges including inciting violence and conspiring with foreign militant groups against Egypt. Several members of the secular protest movement have also been jailed for breaking a new law that tightly restricts the right to demonstrate.
While Western states have criticized the crackdown and called for inclusive politics, they have put little pressure on Cairo for certain strategic reasons.
Egypt controls the Suez Canal, the fastest sea shipping route between Asia and Europe, and has been a cornerstone of U.S. policy in the Middle East since the 1970s, when it became the first Arab state to make peace with Israel.