Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Polarized Egypt casts its first votes on charter

An early count showed it winning about 60 percent of the vote. But it was seen as only deepening the rift.

CAIRO - An Egyptian referendum Saturday on a controversial, Islamist-backed constitution won about 60 percent of the vote, according to initial elections results.

While expected to pass, the polarizing debate over the document only hardened divisions between those who believe that ratification will bring stability and those who think it will further divide an already fragile nation.

Indeed, the opposition claimed that 65 percent voted against the constitution. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which supported the referendum, immediately denied the claim.

The vote appeared to be as much a referendum on Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the party through which Morsi ascended to the presidency, as the constitution itself.

Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood heralded the new document as the pathway to stability. But the opposition groups - Christians, secularists, liberals and moderates - called it divisive and unrepresentative.

Where voters were once festive and exuberant to take part in past elections, on Saturday the crowds were weary, even those embracing the constitution. This was Egypt's third election this year and with each vote, the country has only become more divided.

And since the constitutional assembly hastily passed the document earlier this month, nine Egyptians have died in protests, the deadliest political crisis since Morsi's June election.

There were accusations throughout the day of judges swaying voters, vote rigging, supporters outside telling voters whom to choose, and voters already listed as having cast ballots when they had not.

There were fewer election monitors Saturday as international groups did not have enough time to send representatives, and opposition groups hurriedly looked for volunteers, creating a cloud of doubt over the process.

The main opposition group, the National Salvation Front, said it had received complaints of "tens of violations."

Voters stood in long lines as many judges boycotted the process, leading to fewer polling stations. Some accused their opponents of impropriety. Others expressed little hope that the proposed constitution would be an enduring document.

At polling stations, those who once stood at rival protests for the last two weeks were suddenly standing side by side in the same line. In the northern middle-class neighborhood of Shobra, friends and neighbors Instasar Abdel Fadel, 49, and Zainab Mohammed, 40, bickered on the way to the polling station and all the way back home.

Fadel supported the constitution; Mohammed did not.

Up until the election they would shout at each other from facing balconies. The disagreement continued all the way into the voting booth.

"I want stability. We have to have something," said Fadel, who voted for Morsi in the presidential election. "We want better circumstances for our country and . . ."

"How can you say that?" interrupted Mohammed, who did not let her finish her thought, and who voted for Morsi rival Ahmed Shafik in the election. "Who brought these circumstances to us? What has Morsi done?"