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Egypt leader signs contentious constitution into law

Dec. 26, 2012 11:28 A.M. (Updated: Dec. 28, 2012 5:07 P.M.)
By: Tamim Elyan
CAIRO (Reuters) -- Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi has signed into law a new Islamist-drafted constitution he says will help end political turmoil and allow him to focus on fixing the fragile economy.

Anxiety about the deepening economic crisis has gripped Egypt in past weeks, with many people rushing to take out their savings from banks and the government imposing new restrictions to reduce capital flight.

Results announced on Tuesday showed Egyptians had approved the text with an overwhelming 63.8 percent, paving the way for a parliamentary election in about two months.

The win gives Islamists their third straight electoral victory since veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a 2011 revolution, following their earlier wins in parliamentary and presidential elections.

The presidency said Mursi signed a decree enforcing the charter late on Tuesday after the official announcement of the result of a referendum approving the basic law, Egypt's first constitution since Mubarak's overthrow.

The text has sharpened painful divisions in the Arab world's most populous nation and prompted often violent protests on the streets of Cairo.

Opposition groups condemn the new basic law as too Islamist and undemocratic, saying it could allow clerics to intervene in the lawmaking process and leave minority groups without proper legal protection.

But Mursi, catapulted into power by his Islamist allies, believes adopting the text is key to ending a protracted period of turmoil and uncertainty that has wrecked the economy.

He argues the constitution offers enough protection to all groups, saying many Egyptians are fed up with street protests that have prevented a return to normality and distracted the government from focusing on the economy.

An atmosphere of crisis has deepened in Egypt since the vote, with many Egyptians rushing to take out cash from banks and hoarding hard currency savings at home.

Sharpening people's concerns, the authorities imposed currency controls to prevent capital flight. Leaving or entering Egypt with more than $10,000 cash is now banned.

Rocked by often violent protests in the run up to the two-stage referendum this month, Cairo was calm, with only a small group of protesters burning tyres overnight.

Mursi's government says its opponents are damaging the economy by prolonging political upheaval. It has pledged to impose unpopular tax increases and spending cuts to win a loan package from the International Monetary Fund.

Adding to the government's long list of worries, Communications Minister Hany Mahmoud resigned from his post citing his "inability to adapt to the government's working culture".

The United States, which provides billions of dollars a year in military and other support for Egypt and sees it as a pillar of security in the Middle East, called on Egyptian politicians to bridge divisions and on all sides to reject violence.

"President Mursi, as the democratically elected leader of Egypt, has a special responsibility to move forward in a way that recognises the urgent need to bridge divisions," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said.
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