Egyptians vote on Islamist-backed constitution

By Sarah El Deeb

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Dec. 15 2012 12:05 p.m. MST

"The Brotherhood wants to turn Egypt into its own fiefdom," he said. "I have no confidence in the whole process and I know they will be able to forge the results," he said.

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, half of whom 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 Muslim 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.

"I don't know why we have become so divided ...now no one wants to look in the other's face," said Hesham, who also wears the hijab, after voting. "This will not end well either way. It is so sad that we have come to this."

Another newspaper, the pro-opposition al-Watan, published photographs of Morsi's supporters in Alexandria armed with knives, swords and sticks on the front page of its Saturday edition. "A referendum on their constitution," read the headline, alluding to the Islamists.

Egypt's latest crisis, the worst since Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising in February 2011, began when Morsi issued a decree on Nov. 22 giving himself and the assembly writing the draft immunity from judicial oversight so the document could be finalized before an expected court ruling dissolving the panel.

On Nov. 30, the document was passed by an assembly composed mostly of Islamists, in a marathon session despite a walkout by secular activists and Christians from the 100-member panel.

If the constitution is approved by a simple majority of voters, the Islamists empowered when Mubarak was ousted would gain even more clout. The current upper house of parliament, dominated by Islamists, would be given the authority to legislate until a new parliament is elected.

If it is defeated, elections would be held within three months for a new panel to write a new constitution. In the meantime, legislative powers would remain with Morsi.

The opposition has called on its supporters to vote "no," while Morsi's supporters say the constitution will help end the political instability that has roiled Egypt since the autocratic Mubarak was overthrown. Clerics, from the pulpits of mosques, have defended the constitution as a document that champions Islam.

Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei wrote Saturday on his Twitter account: "Listen to your conscience and the voice of reason and say 'no.'"

Morsi's opponents say minority concerns have been ignored and the charter is full of obscurely worded clauses that could allow the ruling Islamists to restrict civil liberties, ignore women's rights and undermine labor unions.

"At one point in our history, Cleopatra, a woman, ruled Egypt. Now you have a constitution that makes women not even second-class but third-class citizens," said businesswoman Olivia Ghita. "This constitution is tailored for one specific group (the Muslim Brotherhood). It's a shame. I am very upset."

El Deeb reported from Alexandria, Egypt. AP writer Maggie Michael contributed to this report.

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