CAIRO: Egyptians vote this week for the first time since Mohamed Mursi's downfall in a constitutional referendum that will likely give a final push to a presidential bid by the man who deposed him, army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Approval of the rewritten constitution appears a foregone conclusion: Mursi's now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood is urging a boycott rather than a 'no' vote, while many Egyptians who backed his overthrow are expected to vote 'yes' in a show of support for the army-backed order that has replaced Islamist rule.
The state is urging citizens to vote in numbers on Tuesday and Wednesday. Analysts say it hopes that the turnout and the 'yes' vote will outstrip ballots won by the Muslim Brotherhood to give the new order an electoral seal of legitimacy.
"Egypt is on the threshold of a decisive stage in its history, the results of which are awaited by the world," Sisi said on Saturday in public remarks that included the clearest indication to date that he will stand.
"If I run, then it must be at the request of the people, and with a mandate from my army," said the 59-year-old, who is depicted by his supporters as a savior who will restore stability to a country that seen three years of turmoil.
Sisi deposed Mursi, Egypt's first freely elected head of state, on July 3 following mass protests against his rule. His Islamist opponents see him as the mastermind of a coup that set off the worst internal strife in Egypt's modern history.
As the referendum approaches, Sisi's supporters are conflating him and the constitution into one: "Yes to the constitution" declares one banner strung from a Cairo building, alongside a photo of Sisi in army uniform.