Egypt holds final vote on divisive constitution

[24-12-2012 12:00 AM]

Ammon News - By Al Arabiya with AFP

Egyptians vote on Saturday in the final round of a referendum on an Islamist-backed constitution that had plunged the country into crisis, and is likely to be approved.

Polling stations open at 8:00 am (0600 GMT) in the remaining 17 provinces that did not vote in last Saturday’s first round of the referendum.

About 25.5 million voters – out of a total 51.3 million – in the remaining provinces are expected to head to the polls on Saturday, according to the Egyptian daily Al Ahram.

Some 250,000 police and soldiers will be deployed on Saturday to provide security at polling stations.

Last weekend’s first round of the referendum exposed a deep rift in the country, with 57 percent of voters opting for the charter, according to unofficial tallies.

Analysts expect a majority of voters will accept the text in the second round also.

“Everything suggests the vote will go the way the Muslim Brotherhood wants,” Hassan Nafaa, an analyst and commentator, wrote in the newspaper Al-Masri al-Youm.

Preliminary results compiled from returning officers are expected by early on Sunday. The electoral committee overseeing the referendum has not yet announced when it will declare the final official result.

The constitution, drafted by an Islamist-dominated assembly boycotted by Christians and liberals, is at the heart of the power struggle between the Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, and his secular-leaning opposition.

The main opposition group, the National Salvation Front, launched a last-minute campaign to vote down the charter after it failed to torpedo the referendum with mass rallies outside the presidential palace in Cairo.

Earlier in the month, confrontations turned deadly outside the presidential palace, with eight people killed and hundreds hurt.

Both the opposition coalition and civil society groups that monitored the vote allege fraud in the first round. The government’s electoral committee denies the allegation.

If the constitution, which rights groups say limits religious freedoms and women’s rights, is passed, Mursi will grant an Islamist-dominated senate full legislative powers until a new parliament is elected to replace the one annulled by Mursi’s foes in a top court.

Analysts say the opposition will be emboldened even if it suffers a close defeat in the referendum, and will press ahead with rallies against the increasingly divisive president anyway.

They also said it was almost certain that adopting the new constitution would not end Egypt’s political crisis.

Clashes ahead of final round

Clashes between rival demonstrators erupted on Friday in Alexandria, the eve of the final round of a referendum on a divisive new constitution drafted by an Islamist-dominated panel.

About 68 people were injured after clashes between rival demonstrators in Egypt’s second city Alexandria, Al Arabiya TV reported Friday.

The interior ministry said 62 people, among them 12 police conscripts, were injured and 12 protesters were arrested, reported AFP.

Riot police, with orders to act “decisively,” formed a barrier between several thousand Islamists and hundreds more opposition protesters and used tear gas to put down the street battles.

According to Reuters, police fired tear gas to separate scores of opponents of the constitution and thousands of Islamists who clashed in the rain near a mosque in Alexandria.

Calls for rallies came after a violent confrontation between Islamists and the liberal, secular opposition in Alexandria last Friday ended with a Muslim preacher besieged inside his mosque for 14 hours, after he had urged worshipers to vote for the constitution.

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