CAIRO, Dec 25 (Reuters) - Egypt prepared to announce on
Tuesday the result of a vote on a new constitution that Islamist
President Mohamed Mursi hails as a step toward stability in a
country beset by political and economic crisis.
But critics say that by ramming through the basic law, Mursi
has angered his liberal, leftist and Christian opponents, and
may have squandered any chance of building a broad consensus on
tax rises needed to rein in a crushing budget deficit.
Unofficial tallies from Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood showed
the charter was approved by a 64 percent majority. The electoral
commission will announce the official result at 1700 GMT, with
the final numbers widely expected to confirm earlier estimates.
Mursi believes the constitution will end a protracted period
of turmoil that has haunted the most populous Arab nation since
the fall of military-backed strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
But ordinary people and some commentators worry that Mursi's
approach in pushing through the contentious text will only
galvanise his rivals to capitalise on any public backlash
against austerity rather than help sell reforms to the nation.
Hossam El-Din Ali, a 35-year-old newspaper vendor in central
Cairo, said he agreed the new constitution would help bring some
political stability but like many others he feared the possible
austerity measures lying ahead.
"People don't want higher prices. People are upset about
this," he said. "There is recession, things are not moving. But
I am wishing for the best, God willing."
If the "yes" vote is confirmed, a parliamentary election
will follow in about two months, setting the stage for Islamists
to renew their struggle with more liberal-minded opponents.
On the political front, tensions remain high. The opposition
says the constitution, crafted mostly by Mursi's Islamist
allies, fails to guarantee personal freedoms and the rights of
women and minorities. The government denies this.
Once a darling of emerging market investors, Egypt's economy
has taken a hammering since Mubarak's fall.
The budget deficit surged to a crippling 11 percent of gross
domestic product in the financial year that ended in June 2012
and is forecast to exceed 10 percent this year.
In a further worrying sign, Egypt has made it illegal for
travellers to carry more than $10,000 in cash in or out of the
country amid growing fears the government may not be able to get
its fragile finances under control.
Reflecting investor concerns, Standard and Poor's cut
Egypt's long-term credit rating this week and said another cut
was possible if political turbulence worsened.
Adding fuel to people's worries, the central bank also said
it was taking steps to safeguard bank deposits, in a statement
which emerged after some Egyptians said they had taken out cash
out of concern their accounts would be frozen by authorities.
Without broad support, Mursi will find it hard to implement
reforms needed to secure a $4.8 billion loan from the
International Monetary Fund.
Shortly before the referendum, Mursi enraged many by
introducing hikes on the sales tax on goods and services that
ranged from alcoholic beverages, cigarettes and mobile phone
calls to automobile licences and quarrying permits.
In an embarrassing policy U-turn, he withdrew them within
hours under criticism from his opponents and the media.
Facing public anger, the Muslim Brotherhood's party, which
propelled Mursi to office in an election earlier this year, may
now also face a tougher fight in the parliamentary election.