In a reminder of Islamist opposition to the army-led transition, a
supporter of Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood was shot dead during a
protest near a polling station in Beni Suef, 110 km (70 miles),
south of Cairo. Small protests flared elsewhere.
The new constitutional text strips out disputed Islamist language
while strengthening state institutions that defied Mursi: the
military, the police and the judiciary
With no sign of a campaign against the constitution, the draft is
expected to pass easily, backed by the many Egyptians who staged
mass protests on June 30 against Mursi's rule before his ouster. The
Brotherhood has called for a boycott.
"We are here for two reasons: to eradicate the Brotherhood and take
our rights in the constitution," said Gamal Zeinhom, a 54-year old
voter standing in line at a Cairo polling station.
Others cited a desire to bring stability to Egypt after three years
of turmoil ignited by the historic uprising that felled veteran
autocrat President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
"May God bring victory to Sisi," shouted one man as he left a
polling station, raising an ink-stained finger to show he had voted.
Some said they hadn't even read the constitution drafted by a panel
appointed by decree but would vote "yes" in any case.
Sisi ousted Mursi, Egypt's first freely elected head of state, in
July. His Islamist opponents say he is the mastermind of a coup that
kindled the worst internal strife in Egypt's modern history and
revived an oppressive police state.
But after a failed experiment with democracy, many are weary of the
upheaval that has gripped this nation of 85 million and shattered
its economy. They view Sisi as someone who can stabilize the
In a speech on Saturday, he appeared to link a presidential bid to
the referendum result, saying he would need the support of the
nation and the army to run. But analysts say his candidacy now seems
a foregone conclusion as there appeared to be no alternatives in a
barren political landscape.
Sisi had called for a big turnout in the two-day referendum that
concludes on Wednesday. In footage broadcast on state TV, he
inspected a polling station after voting began, dressed in desert
colored fatigues and wearing his trademark dark sunglasses. The
interior minister said turnout was strong.
Eager to get voters to the polls, the government announced a huge
deployment of police and soldiers to secure the ballot. The
authorities also relaxed rules on where people can vote, letting
them cast their ballots outside their constituencies.
"We've had no stability for three years. It's chaos. We are going
out to choose something better for our country," said Nayer
al-Masri, 35, a telecom engineer who was one of several hundred men
waiting to vote in the Zamalek residential district.
"Sisi is my president", declared a poster stuck to a nearby wall,
picturing Sisi alongside a lion. A presidential election could take
place as soon as April.
A Sisi presidency would mark a return to the days when the post was
controlled by men from the military — a pattern interrupted by
Mursi's one year in office.
Brotherhood supporters staged small protests in at least four
cities, a reminder of the deep divisions that overshadow Egypt's
political landscape. The government has escalated its crackdown on
the Brotherhood in recent weeks, declaring it a terrorist
organization on December 25.
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A small bomb went off near in a court complex in Cairo just before
voting was due to begin, but no casualties were reported.
Al Qaeda-inspired militants have stepped up attacks against security
forces since Mursi's ouster.
While the government has linked the attacks to the Brotherhood, the
group has repeatedly said it is a non-violent movement committed to
peaceful resistance to the state.
But the severe security clamp-down — hundreds of Islamists have been
killed and thousands arrested — has taken the steam out of its
demonstrations while fuelling anger among young Islamists. Mursi and
many other top Brotherhood leaders have been arrested and are on
The referendum will mark the third time Egyptians have voted on
constitutional arrangements since the uprising against Mubarak, a
former air force chief. Overall, it is the sixth election or
referendum since Mubarak's downfall.
The constitution will replace one signed into law by Mursi a little
more than a year ago after it was approved in a referendum.
While Western states have criticized the crackdown and called for
inclusive politics, they have put little pressure on the government.
Egypt, which controls the Suez Canal, has been a cornerstone of U.S.
policy in the Middle East since the 1970s, when it became the first
Arab state to make peace with Israel.
The government has been supported by Gulf Arab states hostile to the
Brotherhood. They jumped to Egypt's rescue after Mursi's overthrow,
offering billions of dollars in aid.
Some international non-governmental organizations have been harshly
critical of the authorities ahead of this week's referendum. The
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), a Geneva-based group that
works to uphold the rule of law, described the draft constitution as
"The referendum campaign has taken place within a context of fear,
intimidation and repression, calling into question the fairness of
the entire process," it said in a statement.
Human Rights Watch expressed concern at reports that seven activists
from the Strong Egypt party face criminal charges for hanging
posters calling for a 'no' vote in the referendum.
(Additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla, Mohamed Abdellah, Michael
Georgy, Sameh Bardisi and Maggie Fick; writing by Tom Perry; editing
by Michael Georgy and Ralph Boulton)
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