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Middle East

Egypt's vice president resigns amid polls

Mahmoud Mekki, who took leading role in hosting "national unity" talks, quit as country voted on draft constitution.
Last Modified: 23 Dec 2012 01:06

Egypt's vice president has announced his resignation on the day of a referendum on a new constitution, state TV reported.

Mahmoud Mekki's resignation on Saturday was announced just hours before the end of voting in the second and final round of a referendum on a disputed Muslim Brotherhood-backed constitution.

"The legitimacy of this referendum is really questionable ... No one was represented except one group in drafting this constitution"

- Seif Allah al-Khawanky,
National Salvation Front

Mekki, a career judge, has said he intends to quit once the charter is adopted.

The new constitution eliminates the post of vice president.

However, a statement by Mekki read on state TV hinted that the motive of his hurried departure could be linked to the policies of President Mohamed Morsi.

"I have realised a while ago that the nature of politics don't suit my professional genesis as a judge," he wrote.

He said he first submitted his resignation last month but events forced him to stay on.

Unity talks

Mekki took a leading role in hosting "national unity" talks called by Morsi, although the main opposition politicians stayed away.

Mekki, 58, was a respected judge before Morsi named him to the post in August.

He led judicial opposition to ousted leader Hosni Mubarak, but eschewed calls to become a presidential candidate himself, saying he wished to stay politically independent.

Egypt's Central Bank chief also reportedly resigned on Saturday, state television reported, before later citing a cabinet source denying that he had stepped down.

State television reported that Faruq El-Okd, the bank's head since 2003, might be replaced by his former deputy, Hisham Ramez.

The conflicting reports come amid economic turmoil in the country, which has seen its currency reserves dwindle and foreign investment shrink two years after an uprising overthrew president Hosni Mubarak.

Al Jazeera's Mike Hanna, reporting from Cairo, said if true, Okd's resignation would be "significant".

"He's been central in economic development, in particular, shoring up the pound in recent months, which has come under immense pressure from international currencies," said Hanna.

"And critically,  he's been at the centre of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund about a critical  $4.1bn loan which Egypt is attempting to secure," said Hanna, adding that those negotiations are on hold because of what the IMF said was "the political situation in Egypt".

Voting extended

After a first round vote last week, polls opened on Saturday in areas analysts expected would give another "yes" vote.

Mahmoud Mekki [left] took a leading role in hosting "national unity" talks called by President Morsi [AFP]

The latest polls had been scheduled to close at 17:00 GMT, but remained open until 23:00. Voting was also extended in the first leg.

The vote comes a day after clashes between supporters and opponents of President Morsi in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria.

The violence, which hurt several dozen people, is the latest episode in more than four weeks of turmoil over the president's powers and the constitution.

The proposed new constitution has deeply divided Egypt, with supporters of Egypt's elected president backing the new documents, and mainly liberal opponents decrying it as too partisan.

The first phase on December 15 produced a "yes" majority of about 56 percent with a turnout of some 32 percent, according to unofficial results.

A comfortable "yes'' majority would strengthen Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

The opposition, however, said voting in the first round was littered with abuses. But officials overseeing the poll have said there were no major irregularities.

In an interview with Al Jazeera on Saturday, Seif Allah al-Khawanky, of the National Salvation Front, said the low turnout is "an act of showing the rejection to this project, which they don't believe in".


"The legitimacy of this referendum is really questionable," al-Khawanky said. "No one was represented except one group in drafting this constitution."

New constitution

Morsi and his backers say the new constitution is needed to seal a transition from decades of military-backed autocratic rule, while opponents say it ignores the rights of women and minorities, including the 10 percent of Egyptians who are Christian.

A leading Muslim Brotherhood official dismissed concerns that the new constitution will lead to greater division or upset Egypt's fragile political balance.

"Egypt is not divided and is not facing any internal dangers," said Essam El-Erian, the deputy head of the Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party.

"In reality Egypt is now on the verge of building a new political system that will be open to all political forces," he said.

Widespread demonstrations erupted when Morsi awarded himself sweeping powers on November 22, and then fast-tracked the constitution through a drafting assembly dominated by his Muslim Brotherhood allies and boycotted by many liberals.

Late on Saturday, Morsi announced the names of 90 new members he had appointed to the upper house of parliament, state media reported, and a presidential official said the list was mainly liberals and other non-Islamists.

Morsi's main opponents from liberal, socialist and other parties said they had refused to take any seats.

Two-thirds of the 270-member upper house were elected in a vote early this year, with one third appointed by the president.

941

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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