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Egyptians vote Saturday on Islamist-backed constitution

By Maggie Michael

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Dec. 22 2012 11:23 a.m. MST

CAIRO — Egyptians voted on Saturday in the second and final phase of a referendum on an Islamist-backed constitution that has polarized the nation, with little indication that the result of the vote will end the political crisis in which the country is mired.

For some supporters, a 'yes' vote was a chance to restore some normalcy after nearly two years of tumultuous transitional politics following Egypt's 2011 revolution, or to make society and laws more Islamic. Opponents saw their 'no' vote as a way to preserve the country's secular traditions and prevent President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood group from getting a lock on power.

Hours before polls closed, Morsi's vice president, Mahmoud Mekki, announced his resignation. The move was in part expected since the new charter would eliminate the vice presidency post. But Mekki hinted that the hurried departure could be linked to Morsi's policies.

"I have realized a while ago that the nature of politics don't suit my professional background as a judge," his resignation letter, read on state TV, said. He said he had first submitted his resignation last month but events forced him to stay on.

The resignation underlines the costs Morsi is paying in the bruising constitutional fight, the country's worst turmoil since the fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago. Morsi will likely win the victory of the charter's passage. But he has been abandoned by many of the figures he brought into his administration to give it a more broad-based image, leaving him even more reliant on the Brotherhood and ultraconservative Salafis.

Over the past month, seven of Morsi's 17 top advisers and the one Christian among his top four aides resigned. Like Mekki, they said they had never been consulted in advance on any of the president's moves, including Nov. 22 decrees placing him above any oversight and granting himself near absolute powers.

Saturday's vote is taking place in 17 of Egypt's 27 provinces with about 25 million eligible voters. The first phase on Dec. 15 produced a "yes" majority of about 56 percent with a turnout of some 32 percent, according to preliminary results.

Preliminary results for the second round are expected late Saturday or early Sunday. The charter is expected to pass, but a low turnout or relatively low "yes" vote could undermine perceptions of its legitimacy.

For some, the vote was effectively a referendum on Morsi himself, who opponents accuse of turning the government into a monopoly for the Muslim Brotherhood.

In the village of Ikhsas in the Giza countryside south of Cairo, buses ferried women voters to the polling centers in an effort villagers said was by the Muslim Brotherhood.

An elderly man who voted "no" screamed in the polling station that the charter is "a Brotherhood constitution."

"We want a constitution in the interest of Egypt. We want a constitution that serves everyone, not just the Brotherhood. They can't keep fooling the people," 68-year-old Ali Hassan, wearing traditional robes, said.

But the draw of stability that many hope will come from having a constitution was strong. Though few fault-lines in Egypt are black and white, there appeared to be an economic split in voting, with many of the middle and upper classes rejecting the charter and the poor voting "yes."

In Ikhsas, Hassan Kamel, a 49-year-old day worker, said "We the poor will pay the price" of a no vote.

He dismissed the opposition leadership as elite and out of touch. "Show me an office for any of those parties that say no here in Ikhsas or south of Cairo. They are not connecting with people."

As was the case in last week's vote, opposition and rights activists reported numerous irregularities: polling stations opening later than scheduled, Islamists outside stations trying to influence voters to say "yes," and independent monitors denied access.

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