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Mistrust runs deep over Egypt referendum

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 16, 2012 at 4:16 pm •  Published: December 16, 2012
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CAIRO (AP) — Nevine Mustafa finally had enough after 10 hours of waiting to cast her "no" vote in Egypt's referendum on a highly disputed draft constitution. She and the other women in line were convinced the judge running the polling station was deliberately stalling to drive away voters opposed to the document.

So the 39-year-old housewife and dozens of other women launched a protest, blocking the street and chanting against the judge in an upper class district of Alexandria, Egypt's second largest city.

"The line was not moving since 8 a.m. I protest. It is now 7 p.m.," an agitated Mustafa said at the time. "He wants us to get bored and leave." After their protest, new officials were brought in to speed up the process.

The scene was a reflection of the deep distrust of Egypt's ruling Islamists and their management of a referendum on a draft constitution that they largely wrote. Questions raised Sunday over the referendum's legitimacy suggest the confrontation between Islamists and their secular, liberal and Christian opponents will not be resolved by the long-awaited vote.

As Islamist President Mohammed Morsi rushed the referendum despite high pitched opposition, the dispute over the charter has turned into a fight over the Islamists' hold on power, and the ballot has become a yes or no vote on the president himself.

Rights activists and opponents of the constitution said Sunday that the first round of voting a day earlier was marred by widespread violations, including suppression of voting by opponents of the charter, particularly women, Christians. A coalition of rights groups said the first round was invalid and should be held over again.

That appeared highly unlikely. The Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, said the constitution was on route to approval.

But the margin from the first round of voting, which took place in 10 of Egypt's 27 provinces, was narrow — and turnout low, at only 32 percent.

Preliminary results showed 55.8 percent backed the draft, according to the Brotherhood. Its count was based on a compilation of results announced at each individual polling station. In past elections, the Brotherhood's counts have proven largely accurate.

The strongest "no" vote was in Cairo, with 68 percent, according to the official website of Egypt's state television. The "yes" vote narrowly carried Egypt's second largest city, Alexandria, with nearly 56 percent.

The head of the referendum commission said the official results will be announced after the second and last round, scheduled for next Saturday. It was an indication that reports of violations will not stop the process, at least at this stage. Islamists enjoy wide support in most of the 17 provinces in the second round.

The claims of violations are likely to further stoke tensions ahead of the second round, as each camp works to mobilize a population that largely opted to stay on the sidelines of the rivalry.

Over the past three weeks, hundreds of thousands from both camps have held rival protests in the streets that sparked violence leaving at least 9 people dead.

Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan dismissed the rights groups' allegations as politically motivated to sway public opinion.

"These organizations are funded by Western countries. Just like the Westerners hate the Islamists, so do these groups. They are seculars and they hate the Islamists and have foreign agendas," Ghozlan said.

Despite worries over the vote's fairness, voters "should do down in big numbers to say no," a member of the main opposition National Salvation Front, Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr, told a press conference. The group called for new protests Tuesday.

Many voters who backed the charter argue that men who fear God have written the text, and it must be given a chance.

But the women's protest during Saturday's voting in Alexandria's Rushdi neighborhood reflected anger over what they view as the Brotherhood's domineering way of ruling. Scores of women blocked traffic, chanting, "Down with the rule of the Brotherhood leader."

A young man with a light beard — which the women took as a sign he was a Brotherhood member — tried to break up the protest, telling the women they were obstructing traffic, said Mustafa, who herself wears a conservative headscarf.

"So we shouted: Down with Morsi," she said.

The women contended the judge running the station was trying to suppress voting in the district, known to be a stronghold of "no" voters. He repeatedly closed the station for long breaks to pray, talk on the phone, or eat, said Nada Abdel-Azim, a 23-year old who was among the protesters.

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