Some 270,000 security forces deployed throughout the country as Egyptians went to the polls to vote on a draft constitution
that is seen as a barometer of public satisfaction with the military-led government.
As cars driving by polling places honked in support, and voters held up their fingers in a peace sign, the general feeling on the streets is that the referendum, which is being held over two days, would pass with a sizable majority.
Opponents of the constitution, which enshrines rights for women but also gives the army a lot of power, said the army had threatened opponents with arrest if they spoke out against it. Many of the opponents are from the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, after thousands of members, including former President Mohamed Morsi,
were arrested over the past few months.
Shadia Ragab, a handicapped woman waving the Egyptian flag out of her green Skoda sedan, said she voted in favor.
“I feel very good about the constitution since it talks about our rights as handicapped.” Ragab told The Media Line.
The Constitution calls for equal opportunity for the handicapped and more accessibility.
Yet others said they worried that the Constitution is ambiguous and does not go far enough in guaranteeing the rights of Egyptian citizens.
“I will not vote for the Constitution since I believe my vote doesn’t matter, Mahmoud Abdurrahman told The Media Line. “I believe the constitution is written in a way that will not lead to any positive changes.”
Mohamed Morsi (no relation to the deposed Muslim Brotherhood
leader), an Egyptian landowner and businessman said he is boycotting the referendum as a message to army chief of staff Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is expected to run for president if the referendum passes.
“Sissi wants pictures of people lined up at poll stations to show the world that there is a democratic process, and elections where people went to vote,” Morsi told The Media Line. “But there’s no democracy. The other day, I went down and wrote “No to the constitution!” on the wall of an
army barracks in Nasr City, and the army came and covered it over with new paint. There is no freedom of speech.”
Human Rights Watch said that least seven Egyptians were arrested, “apparently for hanging posters calling for a “no” vote in the forthcoming constitutional referendum.”
Many Egyptians say they favor the referendum as a way to return stability to the country. Egypt
has been rocked by protests since it outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood and forced Morsi to step down.
“I voted “yes” to the constitution so the country can go forward -- we need stability.” Ahmed Essa, 72, told The Media Line.
Yet it seems that the country has a long way to go. Mohamed Soliman, along with his entire family, voted “yes” on the referendum. A bystander began to argue with him about whether the constitution will make a difference. Suddenly a policeman in civilian clothes came over and arrested both men. The policeman said they will be released at the police station.
“The police came and took them so the dispute won’t escalate – it’s for their own protection,” a third man who saw the incident and asked to remain anonymous told The Media Line.
Just before the polls opened, a bomb
went off in front of the courthouse in the neighborhood of Imbaba, about 100 yards from a polling station. There were no injuries.
“Everyone is determined to vote yes despite the attacks this morning. It made me tell my friends to go and vote to stop terrorism.” Mohaned Fikry told The Media Line in the upscale neighborhood of Zamalek.
Despite the explosion, the numbers of voters increased as the day went by. “God will take care of them, whatever those terrorists do, we will go and vote,” Amina Ahmed, an older woman standing in front of the Imbaba courthouse, told The Media Line.
The Constitution also outlaws discrimination against Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, which numbers about ten percent of the population. In the past year there have been a series of violent attacks on churches and on worshippers in Egypt.
“There is religious discrimination, where radical teachers plant in the students hatred towards Christians” Father Samuel Ibrahim told The Media Line. “We still haven’t seen any changes, but through the constitution there should be protection for place of worship. The Constitution talks about protection for minorities, but implementing that is a very different issue.”
Article written by Sherif Elhelwa
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line