Egyptians Go to the Polls to Vote on Sharia-Influenced Constitution
There is little doubt that secular and Christian Egyptians are bitterly disappointed in the draft constitution, believing it doesn't protect women's or minority rights and promotes sharia law as the law of the land.
But that doesn't seem to bother the vast majority of Egyptian citizens who turned out today in the first round of voting for the new document.
Egyptians queued in long lines on Saturday to vote on a constitution promoted by its Islamist backers as the way out of a political crisis and rejected by opponents as a recipe for further divisions in the Arab world's biggest nation.
Soldiers joined police to secure the referendum after deadly protests during the buildup. Street brawls erupted again on Friday in Alexandria, Egypt's second city, but voting proceeded quietly there, with no reports of violence elsewhere.
President Mohamed Mursi provoked angry demonstrations when he issued a decree last month expanding his powers and then fast-tracked the draft constitution through an assembly dominated by his Muslim Brotherhood group and its allies. At least eight people were killed in clashes last week outside the presidential palace.
The liberal, secular and Christian opposition says the constitution is too Islamist and tramples on minority rights. Mursi's supporters say the charter is needed if progress is to be made towards democracy nearly two years after the fall of military-backed strongman Hosni Mubarak.
"The sheikhs (preachers) told us to say 'yes' and I have read the constitution and I liked it," said Adel Imam, a 53-year-old queuing to vote in a Cairo suburb. "The country will move on."
Opposition politician and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on Twitter: "Adoption of (a) divisive draft constitution that violates universal values and freedoms is a sure way to institutionalize instability and turmoil."
Official results will not be announced until after a second round of voting next Saturday. But partial results and unofficial tallies are likely to emerge soon after the first round, giving some idea of the outcome.
In order to pass, the constitution must be approved by more than 50 percent of voters who cast ballots. A little more than half of Egypt's electorate of 51 million are eligible to vote in the first round in Cairo and other cities.
Rights groups reported some abuses, such as polling stations opening late, people being bribed to vote "yes", intimidation and officials telling people to vote "yes".
But Gamal Eid, head of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, which is monitoring the vote, said nothing reported so far was serious enough to invalidate the referendum.
Some experts believe that since opposition groups are boycotting the referendum, that the new constitution will receive close to 70% of the vote.
The problem, as many observers in and outside of Egypt note, is that the interpretation of the new constitution is in the hands of Islamists. And the courts, once a bastion of independence, have been cowed by Morsi's recent power grab, making their opposition fairly easy to overcome. Gradually, Morsi will replace those judges who oppose him and his Islamist agenda thus freeing the Muslim Brotherhood dominated government to follow through on their promise to bring sharia law to Egypt.
A dark day for women and Christians in Egypt.