Egypt constitutional referendum: blow by blow account

Ahram Online , Saturday 19 Mar 2011

Follow Ahram Online's live updates from our correspondents around Egypt as people vote on whether to accept or reject the constitutional amendments proposed by the military appointed committee


21:08 Voting continues into the night with people still waiting patiently for their turn. Speaking of people waiting patiently, Ahram Online’s video reporter, Simon Hanna, captured the moment at 11:15 today when the governor of Cairo, Abdel Azeem Wazeer, was made to leave by angry voters for jumping the queue in his round up of the day.

20:22 State TV reports that counting is underway as polls come to a close across the country.

19:44 The army has fired gunshots in the air in Alexandria to disperse hundreds of Salafists gathered in front of a polling station in the Muharrem Bek area of the city, reports our sister Arabic portal.

19:27 Seems they weren't expecting so many people to come out and vote today. Members of the Supreme Judiciary Committee supervising the referendum have revealed that around 1.5m extra ballot papers had to be printed today.

Voter participation is a record, and respectably honest looking, 60 per cent. And who wasn't ready for democracy?

19:10 Polls were meant to have closed ten minutes ago. Such has been the turnout, people are still being allowed to cast their vote until existing queues disappear into the glass boxes.

19:00 More details are emerging over the arrest over an hour ago of Ragia Omran, a lawyer monitoring the referendum, by an army officer in Cairo. The officer asked Omran, a human rights lawyer, to leave the polling station. She refused and showed him her permit to monitor the proceedings, which entitled her to be inside the station, while he is not. 

The station's supervising judge intervened on her behalf and told the officer that he needs her help, especially when counting the votes. The judge asked the officer to return to his post at the school gate where he waited for an opportunity to arrest Omran.

She is still being detained at the headquarters for the Cairo police department in Bab El-Khalq.

18:12 Hussein Osman Ismail, secretary of the Tagammu party, has filed an official complaint against the Muslim Brotherhood. In it, he accuses the group of entering polling stations where they tell people to vote 'yes' and that Copts are voting against the amendments with the intention of removing Article 2 from any new constitution.

17:35 Ghad member and activist Gamila Ismail criticises Islamists and Salafists for using mosques to tell people to vote 'Yes' after yesterday's Friday prayers. She voted in Aswan.

17:22 Those ElBaradei attackers we reported at 16:55 have been identified by other sources as being thugs with close links to former NDP regime members and the security services. Hired thugs or religious fanatics, either way someone doesn't want the whole country to vote.

17:09 Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie says they will accept the results of the referendum, regardless of the outcome. Speaking at a press conference after casting his vote in Manial, he said: “I congratulate Egypt for this great day. We are happy that Egyptians are so ecstatic and it is the voters’ say that will determine the future of Egypt, which has finally regained its freedom.”

As we've been reporting thoughout the day, some of his followers aren't so sanguine about the outcome.

17:03 A monitor for the NGO Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights tells one of our correspondents that "there is a psychological war between Islamists and Copts" being witnessed at polling stations across Egypt.

16:55 Mohamed ElBaradei accosted while trying to vote at Shaymaa School in Moqattam. He was forced back to his car, whose rear window was broken as he left the scene without being able to vote.

16:49 In Dokki, Omar Khaled, 30, expresses the general mood at polling stations around Cairo by telling our correspondent "even if the result was for 'yes', I'd still be happy for this true, democratic and clean process."

16:44 Gunfire is exchanged in Beni Soueif between alleged thugs and members of Al-Gamaat Al-Islamiya, resulting in injuries on both sides.

16:30 In the Red Sea governorate, foreigners assist with controlling the queues waiting to vote.

16:26 Queues in Sheikh Zayed, where our correspondents reported large crowds this morning, continue to grow.

16:06 In Shubra El-Kheima in Qaloubeya, the main polling station is out of ballot papers according to the former Muslim Brotherhood MP Gamal Zahran "due to an unprecedented turnout."

16:00 Pope Shenouda casts his vote in Shubra. Where reports are coming in that the army and police present at the Tawfikya School polling station are aggressively asserting their authority. One journalist is held up as she tries to enter on suspicion of "not being Egyptian".

15:55 The army is rectifying the lack of judiciary supervision disrupting elections in Upper Egypt by sending judges on military aircraft to Qena, Naga Hammadi and Sohag.

15:52 Salafist groups in the governorate of Monofeya are urging people to vote for the amendments, telling them that voting 'No' is against Sharia law.

Muslim Brotherhood members in Monofeya have expressed their distaste for the methods adopted by the Salafist groups. They say it is wrong to force their views upon people.

15:37 From Agouza, 19 year old Ahmed El-Sayed tells our correspondent that he "would have never dreamt that my school would witness, five years after my graduation, such an inspiring democratisation process."

15:26 At the Basateen Research Institute in Giza, our correspondent reports a high turnout with the mood appearing to be in favour of a 'No'. Young men are leaving the voting booth chanting anti-government slogans. The officiating judge, Ahmed Osman, says he is "very happy with the unprecedented turnout. People have a thirst for democracy." With all the papers at the station unstamped, he has spent all day signing papers one by one.

15:14 In Marsa Matrouh, Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood members have been tearing down posters put up by the Tagammu party calling for a 'No' vote, replacing them with others for a 'Yes'. 

15:10 The queue to vote reaches 3km in length outside Mohandeseen's Ibn Khaldoun High School, reports our correspondent there.

15:00 Voting to continue until everyone gets a chance to vote, according to the referendum's Facebook page. Yes, it has a page.

14:40 The Supreme Judicial Committee has announced that they are considering extending the voting period till midnight. Earlier today the cut off time was extended from 7pm to 9pm. 

14: 35 Verbal fights break out between supporters and opponents of the constitutional amendments in the Gehad Primary School in the suburb of Imbaba.

14:15 The issue of campaigning outside polling stations continues to dominate reports of irregularities. In Alexandria, Islamist proponents of the 'Yes' vote have gone as far as to hang banners around polling stations across the city, especially in poorer neighbourhoods.

14:02 In Mohandeseen, where voting stations are very crowded, our correspondent reports heated arguments between women in front of the station over how to vote. "It got a bit tense because one woman used religion to convince people to vote 'yes'".

13:59 Egyptian state TV reports that planes carrying judges are on their way to Naga Hammadi and Sohag in Upper Egypt where a lack of judiciary has resulted in polling stations remaining closed.

13:55 A termes vendor in Imbaba tells our correspondent that he "voted for a better future" after he cast his vote.

13:35 Our correspondent in Sheikh Zayed says he has just cast his vote, after queuing since 10am. He describes the discipline and high spirits of the thousands of voters, queuing patiently in the scorching sun as "truly amazing". The voting has been orderly, though he notes that none of the voters were taking the trouble of filling their ballots behind what he describes as "a flimsy black curtain" hung in a corner. Voters were just marking their yes or no vote on top of the ballot boxes, and then dropping them in. The staff of the voting station, however, did not interfere in any way in the voting process.

13:30 Following widespread reports of voting papers not carrying the official stamp, the supreme judiciary committee supervising the referendum has announced that all papers will be counted.

13:20 Voting has been extended to 9pm in response to the unprecedented turnout.

13:15 The supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, arrives to cast his vote in Manial. Brotherhood members have been telling voters how to vote outside stations across the country, in contravention of the polling day rules set by the supreme voting committee.

13:13 From Imbaba, 58 year old Nagat tells our correspondent that she is "so happy. I'm sure tomorrow is going to be great for Mohamed", her two year old grandson.

13:08 Voters are being turned away at some of voting stations in Sohag due to the absence of judges to supervise the ballot.

12:32 The secretary general of the Supreme Judicial Committee supervising the referendum has announced that in the event voting papers are unstamped, the signature of the judge monitoring the station would suffice instead.

12:10 Our correspondent in Dokki confirms reports that some stations are issuing unstamped voting forms. Hind Magdy, a doctor, tells us that "all the papers were not stamped" at the Mulahaqa Primary School. She reported this to the station's supervisors, Judges Shereen Ibrahim and Sameh El-Sayed, but was not satisfied with their response, and so has gone to issue a formal complaint at the police station, from which the head of Dokki police has come to calm down the irate crowd, many of whom have since left to look for somewhere more reliable to vote. 

12:00 The Egyptian Coalition for Monitoring the Referendum has issued its first report on today. Its most noteworthy comments are that some stations failed to open on time, votes have been cast outside of the regulatory curtains, and a large number of voting forms are unstamped. The report also mentions that Muslim Brotherhood members have been telling people to vote 'Yes' as they queue, as we already reported.

The coalition adds to the list of the offences that some ballot boxes are without locks, and the supposedly unwashable ink on voters' fingers comes off.

11:48 On Twitter, Wael Ghoneim says "Today is a response to Hosni Mubarak, Omar Suleiman, Ahmed Nazif & anyone who claimed that Egyptians are not ready for democracy."

11:45 In Moqattam, thousands queue to cast their votes.

Unconfirmed reports are emerging from Mansoura and Medinet Nasr in Cairo that the ink used to mark those who have already cast their vote can be washed off.

11:42 Our correspondent in Shubra has been touring the poll stations there talking to voters as they wait. Both sides say they are voting for the sake of stability and security.

Hila El-Attar explains that she is voting ‘Yes’ “because what we wanted is done, those we wanted to leave have gone, and our demands are met.”

Layla Zarif, a 60 year old postal employee, differs. “I’m saying ‘No’ because now we don’t feel safe or secure.”

Each polling station has a popular committee, made up of three members and headed by a judge, to ensure the day passes without incident. Saad Riyadh, a member of one of the committees in Shubra, is emotional as he sums up what he’s seen today: “I can almost cry as I’ve never seen this number of people keen to vote and feel their voice means something.”

11:40 Some polling stations in Mansoura opened an hour late, creating tension.

11:37 In Sharqiya people are voting calmly. In the city of Belbais, Muslim Brotherhood members were prevented from telling people to vote 'Yes'. However, inside the villages, they are being allowed to continue campaigning outside the polling stations, contravening the army's explicit instructions.

11:23 Qasr El-Eini seems to be delivering a 'No' vote. The actress Basma tells our correspondent that "many of us who took part in the Vote No campaign video agreed to vote here."

A monitor at the station assures our correspondent that there will be no fraud there as "all the voting sheets are stamped".

11:15 In Qasr El-Eini, where Amr Moussa voted earlier in the morning, Amr Hamzawy, the Middle East analyst who has been advocating a 'No' vote, and Georges Ishaq, a former leader of the Kifaya movement, arrive to vote. The station is attracting a large media presence.

The governor of Cairo, Abdel Azim Wazeer, is voting here too but is asked to leave the polling station with people chanting at him "go out". 

11:10 A judge supervising voting in Ain Shams tells our correspondent there that the number of voters is more than for any other referendum or election he has supervised.

11:00 Another update from Sheikh Zayed where the queue there is "almost a mile long." The atmosphere continues to be calm and cheerful with people discussing how they intend to vote. "Two families join the queue: a bearded man with his niqab wearing wife and a couple wearing a cross."

10:55 Our correspondent in downtown Cairo reports on her experience of voting for the first time: "We entered four by four (two females and two males). I got in they took my ID, copied the number. I asked how would you know if I voted twice and was told "if you did you will be jailed, all the documents will be compiled". Then I found the judge of the station over my head to answer my questions. The judge told me "we would know by the ink on your finger which won't wash off before tomorrow". He was nervous and said: "go behind the curtain and do what you want".

"In front of a polling station a guy asked "what are they doing?" I told him they are voting and he said: "I thought there are giving things away." He won't vote. A policeman told me "there are no monitors here. Whoever comes with a delegation from an NGO is not entitled to monitor. So the judge ask them to leave. Monitors should get approval from electoral committee.""

10:48 Outside the voting station in 6 October, the organising committee is made up predominantly of Muslim Brotherhood members who are encourgaing people to "vote 'Yes' for the sake of stability".

10:44 Prime Minister Essam Sharaf votes in Dokki with his deputy Yehia El-Gamal. "What's happening is proof that the revolution is succeeding," Sharaf tells reporters as he leaves.

10:37 In Ain Shams, our correspondent sees a Muslim Brotherhood banner hanging telling people to vote 'Yes' while 'No' covers the walls in front of the voting station.

There's an even presence of Christian and Muslim women. One woman asks the judge supervising the station about the amendments before casting her vote. Meanwhile some women tell our correspondent that they didn't make a mark on their paper as they did not know what they were supposed to do. "They just learned that they lost their vote."

10:15 Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa votes in Qasr El-Eini.

10:00 In Zamalek there is only one polling station, forcing some people to go elsewhere with the queue "as long as the eye can see." At the 2007 referendum for constitutional amenments, the same correspondent saw three people vote throughout the day.

09:40 In Shubra "the split is very clear with Christians on one side voting 'No' and Muslims on the other," Ahram Online's correspondent.

In Maadi, meanwhile, voters stand calmly in the sun as the queue snakes round the police station, the only incidence when a police van delivering food to policemen is stopped by one voter enquiring for whom it's intended. 

08:40 With polling stations opening at 8am, long queues are already forming. In Sheikh Zayed, 6 October, thousands of voters of different ages and backgrounds wait patiently. "The scene is very democtaric and civilised, the popular committee is organising the whole thing without a heavy army presence," our correspondent reports.

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