CAIRO: Under a heavy military presence, Egyptians turned out in huge numbers to vote in the country’s disputed constitutional referendum, with preliminary results indicating a narrow ”yes” vote in the poll’s first round.
Out of the 10 governorates that voted on Saturday, only Cairo (57 to 43 per cent) and Gharbiyya, north of the capital (52 to 48 per cent) voted against the new constitution.
Another 17 governorates will vote on December 22, after the government of President Mohammed Mursi was forced to split the poll over two days when 90 per cent of the country’s judges announced they would boycott the vote, leaving a shortage of officials to supervise polling stations.
Drawing harsh criticism from the opposition National Salvation Front, there were no international election observers monitoring the poll, leading to accusations of vote rigging and corruption.
”With so many claims of violations, a substantial percentage of Egypt is already questioning the legitimacy and integrity of this referendum,” a political analyst, Bassem Sabry, wrote.
Dr Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood could have unified Egypt and ”truly managed their part in the democratic transition much more gracefully … instead, Egypt is torn apart”, he said.
Preliminary results indicated a definite ”yes” vote, Karem Radwan, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood administrative office in central and south Cairo, said, while an opposition official told Reuters an unexpectedly strong ”yes” vote in Alexandria had tipped the balance against their campaign. Egypt’s Watan newspaper reported the results were running at 41 per cent ”no” and 59 per cent ”yes”.
In the southern outskirts of the capital on the last stop of Cairo’s Metro Line 1, the industrial city of Helwan is home to more than 700,000 people.
At one of the women’s polling stations long lines of voters had formed, a mix of veiled and unveiled women, Coptic Christians and Muslims. Sabiha Miha wiped the ink from her finger as she emerged from the polling station, saying she had voted ”no”.
”The Muslim Brotherhood said the constitution is following sharia but it is not,” said the 32-year-old, who wears a niqab, or veil. ”Whoever wrote [it] did not guarantee the rights of groups like youth and they did not think about medical needs.”
The mandated poverty line of 750 Egyptian pounds ($115) a month was set too low, she said, and anyone who earned more was not entitled to medical insurance.
Access to medical insurance in the country of 85 million people where 40 per cent live below the poverty line was raised time and again by voters. ”I have read the constitution and it is destructive to so many Egyptians,” a 20-year-old student, Asma, said. ”My mother is sick and we cannot afford health care for her – this constitution will not do anything to help us.”
For others, it was the removal of the minimum age of marriage for women from the constitution that led them to vote no.
”There is no protection for girls or women in the constitution – what will prevent poor families from giving their girls away for marriage too early?” a 27-year-old public relations officer, Lucinia, said.
Only one voter in the line of hundreds of women revealed that she would vote yes. ”It is the best constitution for Egypt and guarantees rights for everyone,” she said, as those around her loudly challenged her to name ”one single right it guarantees”.
At a nearby men’s polling station, 53-year-old Hasin Maadi, an electrician and father of three daughters, said he was also voting no. ”There is nothing in the constitution that protects the rights of workers, and I worry for my daughters as well,” he said.
The referendum has prompted another round of violence and instability countrywide as tens of thousands of pro- and anti-government protesters held rival demonstrations, leaving seven dead and hundreds injured.
Critics said the document was rushed through by an Islamist-dominated constitutional assembly after Coptic Christian, liberal and secular representatives resigned from the assembly in protest.
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