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Egyptians take quarrel over charter to the polls

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 15, 2012 at 3:08 pm •  Published: December 15, 2012

In Cairo's central and densely populated Sayeda Zeinab district, home to a much revered Muslim shrine, 23-year-old engineer Mohammed Gamal said he was voting "yes" although he felt the proposed constitution needed more, not less, Islamic content.

"Islam has to be a part of everything," said Gamal, who wore the mustache-less beard that is a hallmark of hardline Salafi Muslims.

Flight attendant Iman Naguib Mahfouz, a Christian, had a different take on the crisis, speaking kilometers (miles) away in Nasr City, a district in eastern Cairo that is a Brotherhood stronghold.

"I am a Christian and either way we are living in a Muslim state," she said. "But this president is not representing Egyptians, he's representing the Muslim Brotherhood."

Critics, meanwhile, are questioning the charter's legitimacy after the majority of judges said they would not supervise the vote. Rights groups also warned of opportunities for widespread fraud, and the opposition said a decision to hold the vote on two separate days — Dec. 15 and 22 — to make up for the shortage of judges left the door open for initial results to sway voter opinion in the next round.

The Muslim Brotherhood began to issue partial results based on its own exit polls late Saturday. They showed the "yes" vote to be ahead.

The shortage of judges was reflected in the chaos engulfing some polling stations, which led the election commission to extend voting by four hours until 11 p.m.

The violations reported by monitors included polling centers without judges to oversee the process, civil employees illegally replacing the judges, ballot papers not officially stamped as per regulations, campaigning inside polling stations and Christian voters being turned away.

Mohammed Ahmed, a retired army officer from Cairo, said bearded men he suspects of being Muslim Brotherhood members were whispering "vote yes" to men standing in line outside a polling center in Cairo's poor district of Arab el-Maadi.

"The Brotherhood wants to turn Egypt into its own fiefdom," he claimed.

Egypt has 51 million eligible voters, half of whom were supposed to cast their ballots Saturday in 10 provinces, and the rest next week.

"I am definitely voting no," Habiba el-Sayed, a 49-year-old housewife who wears the Muslim veil, or hijab, said in Alexandria. "Morsi took wrong decisions and there is no 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."

Egypt's latest crisis 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.

The schism caused by the crisis was on display when a powerful member of the Brotherhood, Khairat el-Shater, went a Cairo polling center to vote. Women standing in line yelled insults at him and his group, calling him a dog and a liar. El-Shater was the Brotherhood's first choice for a presidential candidate but a Mubarak-era conviction disqualified him, allowing Morsi to take his place.

In Alexandria, a group of women complained that a judge with suspected Brotherhood links intentionally stalled the process to prevent them from voting by taking long breaks to eat, pray and talk on the phone. Angry and frustrated, the women blocked the street outside the polling center.

Cairo businesswoman Olivia Ghita also criticized the constitution as being tailored for the Brotherhood.

"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 Ghita.

If the constitution is approved by a simple majority of voters, the Islamists empowered when Mubarak was ousted would likely gain more clout. The 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.


Associated Press reporters Sarah El Deeb in Alexandria and Aya Batrawy in Cairo contributed to this report.