Egyptians vote on Islamist-backed referendum

By IndepthAfrica
In Egypt
Dec 15th, 2012
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An Egyptian woman casts her vote during a referendum on the new Egyptian constitution at a polling station on December 15, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt. Egyptians went to vote in the first stage of the referendum on a draft constitution, which has caused controversy and led to bitter division between liberals and Islamists.

An Egyptian woman casts her vote during a referendum on the new Egyptian constitution at a polling station on December 15, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt. Egyptians went to vote in the first stage of the referendum on a draft constitution, which has caused controversy and led to bitter division between liberals and Islamists. / Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

CAIRO Egyptians were voting Saturday on a proposed constitution that has polarized their nation, with President Mohammed Morsi and his Islamist supporters backing the charter, while liberals, many secular Muslims and Christians oppose it.

With the nation divided by a political crisis defined by mass protests and deadly violence, the vote has turned into a dispute over whether Egypt should move toward a religious state under Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and a radical Salafi bloc, or one that retains secular traditions and an Islamic character.

“The times of silence are over,” said bank employee Essam el-Guindy as he waited to cast his ballot in Cairo’s upscale Zamalek district. “I am not OK with the constitution. Morsi should not have let the country split like this.”

El-Guindy was one of about 20 voters standing in a line leading men to a ballot box. A separate women’s line had twice as many people. Elsewhere in the city, hundreds of voters had been queuing outside polling stations nearly two hours before the voting started at 8 a.m.

Egyptians girls show their inked fingers after casting their votes at a polling station in a referendum on a disputed constitution drafted by Islamist supporters of President Mohammed Morsi in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012.

/ AP Photo/Amr Nabil

“I read parts of the constitution and saw no reason to vote against it,” said Rania Wafik as she held her newborn baby while waiting in line. “We need to move on and I just see no reason to vote against the constitution.”

Morsi, whose narrow win in June made him Egypt’s first freely elected president, cast his ballot at a school in the upscale Heliopolis district. He did not speak to reporters, but waved to dozens of supporters who were chanting his name outside the polling station.

In Cairo’s crowded Sayedah Zeinab district, home to a revered Muslim shrine, 23-year-old engineer Mohammed Gamal said he was voting “yes” although he felt the proposed constitution needed more, not less, Islamic content.

“Islam has to be a part of everything,” said Gamal, who wore the mustache-less beard that is a hallmark of hard-line Salafi Muslims. “All laws have to be in line with Shariah,” he said, referring to Islamic law.

Highlighting the tension in the run-up to the vote, nearly 120,000 army troops were deployed on Saturday to protect polling stations. A radical Islamist group also said it will send its own members to defend the stations alongside the army and police.

Clashes between Morsi’s supporters and opponents over the past three weeks have left at least 10 people dead and about 1,000 wounded. “No, to the constitution of blood,” said the red banner headline of the independent daily Al Masry Al Youm.

Critics are questioning the charter’s legitimacy after the majority of judges said they would not supervise the vote. Rights groups have also warned of opportunities for widespread fraud, and the opposition says a decision to hold the vote on two separate days to make up for the shortage of judges leaves the door open for initial results to sway voter opinion.

The shortage of judges was reflected in the chaos engulfing some polling stations, which by early afternoon had led the election commission to extend voting by two hours until 9 p.m.

In Cairo’s Darb el-Ahmar, judge Mohammed Ibrahim appeared overwhelmed with the flow of voters, many of whom had to wait for close to two hours to cast their ballots. “I’m trying hard here, but responsibilities could have been better distributed,” he said.

Egypt has 51 million eligible voters, of whom about 26 are supposed to cast their ballots Saturday and the rest next week. Saturday’s vote is held in 10 provinces, including Cairo and the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, the country’s second largest and scene of violent clashes on Friday between opponents and supporters of Morsi.

“I am definitely voting no,” Habiba el-Sayed, a 49-year-old house wife who wears the Muslm veil, or hijab, said in Alexandria. “Morsi took wrong decisions and there is no stability. They (Islamists) are going around calling people infidels. How can there be stability?”

Another female voter in Alexandria, 22-year-old English teacher Yomna Hesham said she was voting `no’ because the draft is “vague” and ignores women’s rights.

“If we say ‘yes,’ we will cease to exist. Some people are saying to say ‘yes’ to Morsi. But he did nothing right. Why should we? They say vote ‘yes’ for stability. We have said `yes’ before and there was no stability.”

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