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Polarisation casts pall over Egypt's draft constitution vote Saturday

Outside polling stations in Cairo, contentious constitutional vote is characterised by lack of organisation and occasional outbreak of verbal exchanges

Osman El-Sharnoubi, Saturday 15 Dec 2012
20:30 Nada El-Kouny who has covered the voting process throughout the day from several polling stati
Women vote in referendum (Photo: Mai Shaheen)
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Views: 1623

As the first stage of Egypt's constitutional referendum proceeds, the recent polarisation of Egyptians over a draft national charter that critics say was written by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists is evident at a number of polling stations.

Although the polling has been largely peaceful so far, tension between voters supporting and rejecting the draft constitution occasionally breaks out into verbal exchanges.

One voter interviewed by Ahram Online in Cairo's Hadayek Al-Qubba district who voiced her rejection of the draft charter was met with an angry response from fellow voters who accused her of being "unpatriotic."

In contrast to polls that Egyptians participated in following the January 25 revolution, today's referendum is marked by reports of inefficiency and violations. As large numbers of judges have refused to supervise the balloting, many polling stations opened late while others worked very slowly.

Ahram Online reporters on the ground were present at one polling station where only one out of six judges showed up, forcing voters to wait much longer.

Violations reported so far include the absence of judges from some polling stations, unstamped voting papers, the absence of marking ink and the refusal of judges to show identification, all of which violate regulations laid down by Egypt's Supreme Electoral Committee (SEC).

According to Ahram Online journalists, groups were standing outside polling stations directing people how to vote – a practice commonly seen in recent elections, most noticeably on the Islamist side.

While turnout figures appeared to vary from location to location, the SEC extended the voting period from 7pm to 9pm "due to high turnout." Long lines of voters could be seen outside many polling stations.

Speaking to Ahram Online, voter Madiha summarised the situation in the upper-class district of Maadi, saying that "while it is always crowded outside polling stations, I have the feeling this time is less organised. Many people are complaining, and elderly women are having to wait in very long queues to be able to vote, unlike other times."

Opposition forces, under the umbrella of the National Salvation Front, have slammed the draft constitution, saying it will only lead to a "presidential dictatorship," threaten rights and freedoms and leave the door open to an ultraorthodox interpretation of Islamic Law.

The Constituent Assembly that drafted it, the front charges, failed to represent Egyptian society after several leftist, liberal and church representatives staged a mass walkout.

Supporters of President Morsi have, however, held huge demonstrations in support of the constitution across the country, maintaining that the draft national charter was necessary to guarantee "stability" and successful democratic transition.

The first stage of voting on Saturday will include ten of Egypt's 27 governorates: Cairo, Alexandria, Gharbiya, Sharqiya, Daqahliya, Assiut, Sohag, Aswan, and North and South Sinai.

The number of citizens eligible to cast ballots in the first stage is estimated at some 26.6 million out of Egypt's 51.3 million registered voters.
Four of these governorates (Cairo and the Nile Delta governorates of Gharbiya, Sharqiya and Daqahliya) voted overwhelmingly against President Mohamed Morsi in a hotly-contested presidential runoff in June.

Alexandria, the Upper Egyptian governorates of Assiut, Sohag and Aswan, and the border governorates of North and South Sinai all voted 'yes' for Morsi, albeit by a slim margin.

The second stage of voting, due to be held 22 December, will include Egypt's remaining 17 governorates and involve an estimated 24.7 million registered voters.

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