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Exclusive - Sinai’s Displaced Return Home to Vote in Constitutional Referendum

Exclusive - Sinai’s Displaced Return Home to Vote in Constitutional Referendum

Monday, 22 April, 2019 - 08:15
People walk past a banner supporting proposed amendments to the Egyptian constitution with a poster of President Sisi in Cairo, Egypt, April 16, 2019. (AP)
Northern Sinai (Egypt) – Asharq Al-Awsat
Four years have passed since ISIS-linked violence drove social activist and former parliamentary candidate Mona Barhouma out from her hometown in northern Sinai.

Barhouma was many residents who were displaced by security forces’ authorities to create a buffer zone with Gaza in the northern Sinai region.

But with the country holding a constitutional referendum, she was forced to return to her home district to vote.

Crossing the distance from Arish to Sheikh Zuweid, Barhouma stressed that her strong feeling of patriotism had motivated the journey to vote.

“I went with our people who live in Arish back to Sheikh Zuweid to cast our votes as it is a national duty we chose to carry out and without any orders,” she told Asharq Al-Awsat whilst clutching an Egyptian flag close to her chest.

An official statistic released by the city council of Rafah, showed that the population in 2011 stood at 56,000, most of whom were displaced over the establishment of the buffer zone and were mostly resettled in Arish and other nearby districts.

“Three years ago, we left our hearts hanging in Sheikh Zuweid, and today we are returning to vote in the referendum on the constitution for a decent life,” said Salama Rashid, director of public relations and media at the Directorate of Education in North Sinai.

“My visit to my hometown, Sheikh Zuweid, was a trip filled with nostalgia and memories taking me back to my childhood, and it was necessary to say no to terrorism,” he said.

According to Mohammed Dahmash, a Sheikh Zuweid resident, voter turnout was given a major boost by willing participants who traveled through publicly-provided transportation.

Mohammed Sami Lahloub, another young man from Sheikh Zuweid, told Asharq Al-Awsat that he launched an initiative to support the constitutional amendments in cooperation with some of the city's youth, promoting it as a challenge to terrorism.

Egyptians started voting on Saturday in a three-day referendum on constitutional changes that could allow President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to stay in office until 2030.

If approved, the amendments would extend Sisi’s current term to six years from four and allow him to run again for a third six-year term in 2024. They would also grant the president new powers over the appointment of judicial officials, bolster the role of the military and create an upper parliamentary chamber.

The referendum also proposes other changes to the five-year-old constitution, among them the creation of a second parliamentary chamber and a quota ensuring at least 25 percent of lawmakers are women.

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