By Yasmine Saleh
CAIRO (Reuters) - A big majority of Egyptians approved constitutional changes in a referendum that will open the path to early elections, a judicial source said on Sunday, quoting preliminary results. The source said 70 percent of voters approved the reforms on a 60 percent turnout in Saturday's plebiscite, meaning around 27 million Egyptians took part in the first vote in living memory whose outcome was not a foregone conclusion. Turnout was always very low for elections which were routinely rigged under President Hosni Mubarak, toppled on February 11 by a mass uprising that forced him to step down and hand power to the military.
The reforms were backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, the main Islamist group, and remnants of Mubarak's National Democratic Party, which had called on voters to support the changes.
"The main fear is that it will be interpreted by some of the political forces that supported the referendum as a kind of support for their programs, and I mean the Islamists," political analyst Diaa Rashwan told Reuters.
The referendum was a milestone on the course charted by the military toward parliamentary and presidential elections. The military has signaled the parliamentary election could happen in September, with the presidential vote after that.
An early election is seen as favoring the Brotherhood and remnants of the Mubarak administration. Decades of oppression under Mubarak crushed other groups, which are arguing for a longer interim period to allow political life to recover.
(Writing by Edmund Blair and Tom Perry; editing by Andrew Roche and Paul Taylor)