Published January 15, 2014
CAIRO – Undeterred after a day of sporadic violence, Egyptians on Wednesday lined up to vote on the second, final day of a key referendum on the country's new constitution.
The vote is a milestone in a military-backed political roadmap toward new elections for a president and a ballot-box test of public opinion on the coup that removed Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood from power last July.
The charter is almost certain to win a majority approval, following an intense endorsement campaign in the mostly pro-military media. Nearly all voters interviewed by The Associated Press said they backed the new constitution.
Those who campaigned against the draft have been arrested and now face criminal charges. Monitors suspected of Brotherhood ties were not given permission to oversee the vote, and judges -- in charge of supervising the vote -- were carefully selected to weed out those suspected of links to the group.
Hours after polls reopened at 9:00 a.m Wednesday, the turnout appeared lighter than on the first day but the mood was upbeat.
In Cairo's upscale eastern district of Heliopolis, patriotic songs about the military blared from loudspeakers mounted on pickup trucks. A small group of female voters ululated in approval outside a polling center in the central Mohandessin district. Many voters at the scene said the referendum consigned Morsi and the Brotherhood to a bygone era.
"This constitution is a nail in the coffin of the Muslim Brotherhood," said Badiea Mansour, a 65-year-old former tourism employee.
Newspapers, most of which are pro-military, claimed a "heavy" turnout on Tuesday was a defeat for Morsi and the Brotherhood.
"The elephant smashed the ant," read a headline in the daily el-Watan. "Millions defy terror of the (Brotherhood) organization in referendum lines."
In an attempt to disrupt the vote, a group of pro-Morsi protesters took to the subway tracks in Cairo's southernmost Helwan station, forcing the trains to stop, according to a security official. Police intervened to disband the demonstration, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
On Tuesday, dozens of protesters burned tires and pelted police with rocks and firebombs in several villages near the Giza Pyramids and in southern cities known as strongholds of the Brotherhood and Islamists in general, creating just enough tension to keep many voters at home. Health Ministry said Tuesday's death toll reached 11.
Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali, the military spokesman, said the violence was a "desperate attempt to stop the train of Egypt from heading toward the future" that would not succeed.
A total of 294, mostly Brotherhood supporters were arrested over attempts to "obstruct the vote on the constitution and clashing with security forces and residents," a high ranking Interior Ministry official said.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media, said police confiscated home-made grenades and guns, along with firebombs and knives from the detainees.
The Brotherhood, which the interim government has branded as a terrorist organization, has called for a boycott of the vote. In its most recent statement late Tuesday, it accused Egypt's mostly pro-military media of falsifying reports on the turnout.
"They are trying to cover-up their early defeat," said the statement from the Brotherhood-led Anti-Coup and Pro-Democracy Alliance, claiming the turnout was a mere 15 percent in southern Egypt and vowing to continue Brotherhood rallies.
The new charter is a heavily amended version of a constitution written by Morsi's Islamist allies and ratified in December 2012 with some 64 percent of the vote, but with a nationwide turnout of just over 30 percent.
Drafted by a committee dominated by secular-leaning politicians and experts appointed by the military-backed government, the draft bans political parties based on religion, limits the role of Islamic law in legislation and gives women equal rights. It also gives the military special status by allowing it to select its own candidate for the job of defense minister for the next eight years and empowering it to bring civilians before military tribunals in certain cases.
The current government is looking for a bigger "yes" majority and larger turnout to win undisputed legitimacy and perhaps a popular mandate for the military chief, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to run for president. El-Sissi has yet to say outright whether he plans to seek the nation's highest office, but his candidacy appears increasingly likely every day.