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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Egypt holds second stage of vote on draft constitution

BBC News online - 22 December 2012
Shaimaa Khalil reports on an emerging split within Egyptian society
Egyptians are voting in a second stage of a constitutional referendum that has sparked weeks of unrest.

Opponents of President Mohammed Morsi have held protests against the draft, saying it favours the Islamists now in power and betrays the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak last year.
Mr Morsi's supporters say the constitution will secure democracy.

Some 250,000 security personnel have been deployed nationwide to try to keep order during the referendum.

Separately, Vice-President Mahmoud Mekki has announced his resignation, state media have reported.

Mr Mekki, who took the post in August, said in a statement read on television: "I realised a while ago that the nature of politics does not suit my professional background as a judge."

Mr Mekki, 58, said he had tried to resign last month but circumstances required him to remain.
'More unrest'
Tension over the draft constitution has led to weeks of violence in Egypt.

Turnout was reported to be just above 30% in the first round, with unofficial counts suggesting some 56% of those who cast ballots voted in favour of the draft.

At the scene

Women have come out in force at the Imbaba youth centre polling station in Giza. Like everywhere in Egypt, the mood is very tense here. The working class neighbourhood of Imbaba has long been an Islamist stronghold but this crowd of women were mixed.
"I voted 'No'," Um Mahmoud told me angrily, as she walked out of the polling station. "I don't like the way Egypt is going. How can one group (the Muslim Brotherhood) take over the country like that?" she asked. "I'm not here only to say 'no' to the constitution, I'm here to say 'no' to the Brotherhood."
Another woman, Howaida, joined the conversation. As soon as she said she had voted 'yes', a heated argument broke out with Um Mahmoud.
"I read the constitution. I'm convinced it's right for Egypt," Howaida said. "After the referendum, there will be parliamentary elections. That's what we need. The country really needs to move on now."
Um Mahmoud retorted: "They tell us that all the time and the country never moves on." Howaida pleaded with her to calm down. But it was too late. At least three more women joined the conversation.
You only need to mention the words constitution, Morsi or Muslim Brotherhood and people will just gather in a heated debate, any time, anywhere.
Polling stations opened at 08:00 local time (06:00 GMT) on Saturday. They had been scheduled to close at 19:00 but will now remain open until 23:00. Voting was also extended in the first leg.

Official results are not expected until Monday, after appeals are heard. If the constitution passes, parliamentary elections must take place within three months.

Ballots are being cast in the 17 provinces which did not vote in the first round on 15 December
The areas are seen as more conservative and sympathetic to Mr Morsi's Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Analysts suggest this will favour a "Yes" vote.

"I'm voting 'No' because Egypt can't be ruled by one faction," Karim Nahas, a 35-year-old stock market broker voting early on Saturday in Giza, told Reuters news agency.

Egyptians casting votes in favour of the charter said they were voting for stability.

In the town of Fayoum, "yes" voter Hanaa Zaki told the Associated Press news agency: "I have a son who hasn't got paid for the past six months. We have been in this crisis for so long and we are fed up."

Opponents of the draft say it fails to protect the freedoms and human rights that they sought in the uprising that toppled Mr Mubarak. Some have also complained about the role given to Islamic clerics and what they say is a lack of a clear commitment to equality between men and women.

The campaign group Human Rights Watch has said the draft provides for basic protections against arbitrary detention and torture, but fails to end military trials of civilians or to protect freedom of expression and religion.

Ahead of the second round, opposition politicians said they thought further violence was likely.

Constitution at a glance

  • Sharia remains the main source of legislation
  • Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's leading authority, to be consulted on "matters related to Sharia"
  • Christianity and Judaism to be the main source of legislation for Christians and Jews
  • Religious freedom to be limited to Muslims, Christians and Jews
  • Limits president to two four-year terms of office
"I see more unrest," said Ahmed Said, head of the liberal Free Egyptians Party and a member of the opposition coalition.

One voter in Ikhsas village, Marianna Abdel-Messieh, agreed. "Whether this constitution passes or not, there will be trouble," she told AP. "God have mercy on us."

Separately, Mr Mekki said he had tried to resign on 7 November but that events had prevented him from doing so.

These included the conflict in Gaza and Mr Morsi's decree on 22 November that granted the president sweeping new powers and led to the current crisis over the draft constitution.

After an outcry, the president revoked much of the decree, but he refused to back down on the draft document.

The text was rushed through by a constituent assembly dominated by Islamists and boycotted by liberal and left-wing members, as it faced a threat of dissolution by the country's top court.

Egypt has seen mass demonstrations on both sides ever since.

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